1) About smeargate, or pine-tar gate, or whatever-you-want-to-call-it gate, my good friend DH, also a faithful reader and Detroit native admonished me for failing to mention this yesterday (and, instead, talking about competitive balance, of all things). I was actually in NY this weekend, and had no reliable internet access Sunday night or Monday, when this thing really blew up. But, beyond that, I just didn’t think it was that big a deal. I know the national media has gone crazy over this, including Mike and the Mad Dog on Monday, who had a contentious interview with supervisor of umpires Steve Palermo and especially Mike Greenberg yesterday, who was beside himself about how complacent everyone was about the cheating, etc. And, my sister (who’s as big a Yankee fan as I am) called me two nights ago to complain about all the new evidence that Rogers had had a suspicious brown spot on his hand in many games this season, including against the Yanks. I just don’t care. Assuming it is pine tar, yes, it’s illegal, and pitchers have been suspended for illegal doctoring baseballs.
But, I am going to trust what Peter Gammons had to say about this – the players he spoke to saw no unusual movement in Rogers’ pitches and Mad Dog Russo himself acknowledged, even while arguing with Palermo, that we don’t even really know what the advantage is. Maybe it gives Rogers a better grip on the baseball, and maybe that helps explain the real anomaly in Rogers’ pitching lately – which is not the movement on his off-speed stuff, but the fact that he’s hitting the low 90s on the radar gun with some consistency.
The best perspective I have seen on the issue comes from Gwen Knapp (Hat Tip: ST), in the San Francisco Chronicle. “NFL has Plenty of its Own Smudges” opens thusly (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/10/24/SPGHVLURID1.DTL):
“Fox's vigilant cameras exposed the big dirt in baseball Sunday night in Detroit, flashing close-up after close-up of Kenny Rogers' smudged left hand. ESPN dug into its video archives and discovered that Rogers had employed equally poor hygiene in his other postseason starts this year.
It was great theater, and not bad journalism.
Imagine if that same zeal had been applied to learning the truth about doping in baseball in the '90s.
Imagine if even half of that passion was directed at drug problems in football, which has escaped the scrutiny directed at its summer cousin. Pine tar sticks, even the hint of it. But rife hormone tampering in the NFL? Nobody can get a grip on that.”
Noting the significance of the four-game suspension of Chargers’ superstar linebacker Shawne Merriman, for a positive steroids test, Knapp writes:
“But the real significance of the story, if the pattern holds, will end up being that a team touted as one of the NFL's best might lose a star for four games. Perhaps, if the Chargers reach the Super Bowl during Merriman's tenure and he dominates the game, the issue will arise again -- but not with the force of the anger around Barry Bonds and his pursuit of 756 home runs, and not with the loud anguish that will follow Rogers to the mound if the World Series reaches a Game 6.
Somehow, steroids in football aren't seen as the same affront to the game's integrity. There are no hallowed records to adulterate. No individual can carry a team the way a starting pitcher can in baseball. And, in a game that is already half-freak show, where cortisone shots and trips to the surgeon are as routine as the seventh-inning stretch, the hazards of steroid use don't loom so large.”
Knapp, like yours truly, also wonders aloud about how the Panthers’ steroid story could have died as quickly as it did:
“The umpires had the first responsibility to curtail any wrongdoing. After they bobbled their duties, barely inspecting Rogers' arm, much less his cap, glove and any other uniform or body part that might have become the back-up supply site, the media had to pick up the ball. So far, the attention to detail has been appropriate.
But where was that level of fascination when a North Carolina paper laid out evidence of extensive drug use by five Panthers? Or when HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel'' elicited estimates of drug use from former 49ers and Raiders defensive lineman Dana Stubblefield and Washington offensive lineman Jon Jansen?
Stubblefield, a BALCO client, suggested 30 percent of NFL players used the undetectable hormone growth hormone, and Jansen said 15 to 20 percent of all players used some form of performance-enhancers.”
Knapp articulates well why I can’t take seriously the bloviating about cheating from the likes of Greenie.
2) Drew Sharp, writing in today’s Detroit Free Press, fears that the Tigers are wilting under the pressure:
“This is a game that kills those who are fundamentally inadequate, and that's why the Tigers are perilously close to having their world championship dreams on life support.
They find themselves in the unfamiliar position of trailing in a playoff series after their 5-0 loss Tuesday at Busch Stadium. They're collapsing under the weight of the heavy expectations of the favorite.
"I blew it," said reliever Joel Zumaya, assessing his performance as quickly as he made the errant throw to third base that removed doubt from what was a fairly close, dramatic game.
The Tigers have committed as many errors in three games (five) as they've scored runs.
The combination of Ivan Rodriguez, Placido Polanco and Curtis Granderson are a combined 0-for-34 in this series.
But what's truly disquieting is how a team that thrived on the late-season pressure of possibly blowing a 10-game divisional lead or coming scarily close to falling behind, 0-2, to the Yankees in the division series isn't responding to the expectations of life on the game's grandest stage.
These are the little things about baseball that are fun.
Runs were precious Tuesday, demanding your full attention every time somebody got a runner in scoring position.
Pitchers batted, mandating that the managers actually manage. And missed opportunities had huge consequences attached.
The Tigers have sucked adversity like oxygen this season. But they must understand that they can't just sit back and wait for a three-run homer as their lifesaver.
"Momentum is everything in this game," said losing pitcher Nate Robertson. "We seemed to have an unlimited supply of it before, but you can lose it as quickly as you get it. But all you can do is shake this off and know that we've got another game the next day."
The pressure is squeezing the Tigers.”
There’s some classic overstatement going on here. World Series games are, of course, of epic importance (I mean that seriously). And so, attributing the outcome of a particular game to the mere particularity of that day simply won’t do. Yes, the Tigers played some loose baseball last night. But, it’s not really shocking that Chris Carpenter, arguably the NL’s best pitcher over the past three seasons, would pitch a gem. Detroit is, after all, a free swinging, relatively undisciplined team. They can be shut down. They could also hit four homeruns tonight. Will that mean that they suddenly sloughed off the pressure that Sharp believes was squeezing them last night.
Also out of place is Sharp’s claim that the Tigers “thrived on the late-season pressure of possibly blowing a ten-game lead?” In case Sharp missed it, the Tigers DID blow a ten game lead and lost the division title on the last weekend of the season by getting swept by the pathetic Royals. There’s nothing about that that could be called “thriving” except that the Tigers’ response to pressure has become a part of their storyline, and even events that clearly don’t fit the bill are being retroactively incorporated into the narrative. The Tigers were one of baseball’s best teams this season, the last six weeks of the regular season notwithstanding. Their strengths are their strong starting pitching, their great middle relief, and home run pop throughout their lineup. Their weaknesses are a shaky closer and an undisciplined lineup that can be shut down by good pitching. All of those strengths and weaknesses have been on display in the first three games of the Series.
3) Speaking of Zumaya’s error last night, I thought Tim McCarver was way over the top in his criticism of the fire-balling right hander’s decision to go to third base in the seventh inning last night, resulting in an error that helped expand the Cardinals lead from 2-0 to 4-0. McCarver kept asserting that pitchers never go for the 1-5-3 double play and FOX’s research team managed to dig up the fact that the last time there was a 1-5-3 double play in the World Series was in 1923. But, it’s not clear that Zumaya was thinking “double play” (correct me if you’ve seen otherwise). Maybe he was thinking “lead runner.” Down 2-0, with first and second and nobody out, this is a perfectly reasonable decision – you want to make the first out at third base. Had there been one out, going to third would have been more questionable. By the way, McCarver has called other World Seriesgames where, at pivotal moments in close games, pitchers have successfully nailed a runner at third on comebackers with runners at first and second and nobody out (Game 5, 1996, and Game 7, 2001 come to mind) and McCarver did not question those decisions.
Inge wasn’t ready, and Zumaya made a bad throw, but the weight of history was not necessarily against Zumaya’s decision.
4) There’s been a lot of talk this morning about the 0-for being pulled by Placido Polanco, Ivan Rodriguez and Curtis Granderson so far in the World Series. Not to dwell on this, but none of these three is a good offensive player. I have made this comment about Irod a couple of times before, so I’ll leave it at that. But, despite his outrageous performance with runners in scoring position this year, Polanco had a terrible season offensively, with an OPS below .700. This is not a player you want to count on against good pitching. (OK, how Jeff Weaver suddenly became “good pitching” – I don’t know). Granderson is an exciting player with some pop and he’s had some big hits this postseason, but his regular season performance was OK, not great.
5) For some historical perspective, Dave Zirin has a great piece this week on the 1968 World Series between the Cardinals and the Tigers, played amidst rioting and simmering racial tension in Detroit. Of Detroit’s World championship team that season, Zirin writes(http://www.thenation.com/doc/20061106/southpaw):
“The Tigers team--led
by Al Kaline, thirty-game winner Denny McLain and prominent African-American
players like Horton and Gates Brown--was seen as a force of
calm in the Motor City. An entire HBO documentary called A City on Fire was made based on this thesis. Many at the time believed that the success and joy
brought by this integrated team would stop the exodus known as "white flight" and revitalize the city. But professional sports doesn't always herald revival.
Often it mocks it.”
Concerning the 2006 Tigers, Zirin continues:
“Detroit today is not a story of low-level
insurrection but immiseration. Unemployment in 2006 was 13.8 percent (three times
the national average), and more
than one-third of the city's residents live below the poverty line. As the Associated Press recently reported, "Much of the rest of Detroit...is a landscape dotted with burned-out buildings, where liquor stores abound but supermarkets are hard to come by, and where drugs, violence and unemployment are everyday realities."
For the Tigers, the main difference between 1968 and today is where they play. In 1968, it was the historic Tiger Stadium. Today it is an amusement center known
as Comerica Park. By all accounts, it is a very nice amusement park, complete with Ferris wheels, merry-go-rounds and beer halls. It also is a place decidedly not for the folks left in Detroit.
Anita Caref, a teacher in the inner city, was at game one of the World Series, and this was what she wrote me:
"I realize that baseball has a preponderance of white fans, and I know that I didn't get a look at all of the 42,000 plus in attendance tonight, but clearly
there were hardly any people of color there. What a stark contrast to the city itself, which is 83% African-American and 12% Latino. Frankly, it was hard to believe we were in Detroit. I sat there wondering how many of the folks there actually live in the city,
and thinking that Detroit would be a very different place if the majority of them lived in Detroit and contributed their taxes to the well-being of the city.”
6) One more thing – with all the talk of swings in momentum, and the surprising Cardinals and the faltering Tigers, there is a simple fact about the Tigers this postseason: they have lost three games, and two have come when Nate Robertson was on the road, matched against the other team’s ace. Despite being down 2-1, the Tigers have the advantage in the starting pitching match-ups for each of the next three games.