Monday, October 27, 2008

World Series Thoughts

So here we sit, four games in to the World Series and with my Philadelphia Phillies sitting in the extremely unfamiliar territory of being up 3 games to 1, with one more game at home on Monday night and a chance to close out the franchise's second World Championship in its 126-year history. This just one year after becoming the first team in professional sports to record 10,000 losses as a franchise. And they can win the championship at home in front of the totally deserving home town Philly fans if they can pull it together for one more big win tonight. I'll get to a recap of the weekend's baseball in a second, but I have to say for the record that one of my lasting impressions of this series so far has got to be the umpiring. Or should I say, the lack thereof.

There have been several blown calls through just four games in the World Series. And I don't mean some subjective play where reasonable minds could disagree, or some minor pitch call or something that is just not important enough to even mention. No, I'm talking about blatant, embarrassing mis-calls, ones where the video clearly shows the umpire's inaccuracies, the kinds of calls that absolutely must land these guys in a meeting at the head of baseball's offices sometime in the week or so after the World Series is over. And there's been at least one absolute bonehead call in every single game so far of this series. And I'm probably forgetting a couple to boot.

In Game 1, maybe the 5th inning, the umps started down the road of suckitude by missing the balk on a Cole Hamels pickoff of Rays center fielder BJ Upton. Granted, Upton was so keen on stealing every fucking time he gets on base that he took off about three full seconds before the balk occurred. But then he almost got bailed out on the balk, which showed up only at the end of the stride, but from the slo-mo replay it is clear that Hamels did step about a foot towards home plate by the time that foot came down on his throw to first. It was a balk, plain and simple.

In Game 2, 1st inning, the umpire made the pretty close to unprecedented move of calling a Rays batter out on strike 3 with a full count going (it was a strike btw, albeit on the outside corner. Yknow how I know? I saw it. And Tim McCarver said it was clearly a ball. So you know it was a strike). But then the ump, just a second after calling the batter out, turns to the ump on first base and asks him if the batter checked his swing. The 1st base umpire says no, and the home plate ump sends the batter to first on a walk. The runner later scores when he should have never even been on base. The home plate umpire's official story is that he "meant to" call the pitch a ball but failed to make the right hand motion (and oral call) in accidentally calling the batter out on strikes. Obviously, that is unacceptable at the most basic level and is inexcusable in any game, let alone a game of this magnitude. And the pitch was a strike anyways and the guy should have been called out for letting it go by with a full count going.

Two nights later, in the crucial 7th inning of Game 3, ageless Phililes pitcher Jamie Moyer makes an incredible diving play to shovel a slow topping grounder on the right side to Ryan Howard at first base, and Rays runner BJ Upton is clearly out by a step, very visibly so on the replay. But the first base umpire, standing right there with more or less the perfect angle on the play, calls Upton safe,much to the chagrin of the hometown fans, the fielders and the Phillies managerial staff. And, of course, since Upton feels entitled to every single base once he steps foot on first, the guy who was actually clearly out at first then proceeds to steal second, steal third and then score to tie the 1-run game in the frigging 7th inning on the mis-throw when he steals 3rd base. All when he should have obviously been called out at first to begin with. Sick.

Also in Game 3, late in the game at that in a crucial one-run game, Jimmy Rollins is at the plate and clearly gets hit by the pitch from the Rays' wild pitchers. It was so obvious -- forgetting for a minute the replay which actually shows Rollins' uniform flapping back as the ball hits it -- but it was so obvious even in real-time that even those dolts McCarver and Buck knew it as soon as the pitch came in to home plate. They even replayed the pitch in real-speed and real-audio, saying you could even hear the pitch hitting the batter, from way up where they were sitting in the superbox for the press. And yet somehow, the home plate umpire, standing what, two feet away from where the pitch came in, missed the whole thing. Rollins argued, the ump told him to kiss off, and Rollins flied out on the next pitch to end a super important inning where the Phils were close to getting the go-ahead run across the plate.

Now on Sunday in Game 4, first inning, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria tags Jimmy Rollins at 3rd, and the umpire there calls him safe, saying that Longoria failed to make the tag on Rollins. The replay clearly shows that Longoria nipped Rollins' shirt before he slid back in to third base. Now granted, this was an idiot move by Rays pitcher Andy Sonnanstine to even be chasing Rollins down at this base instead of just taking the double play and ending the inning right there without the Phillies even scoring a run. It was a horrible, inexcusable mental error in fact. But this blown call ended up loading the bases, and the next batter Pat Burrell (if you can even call what Burrell is doing in this World Series "batting") walks in a run, one that should never have scored in that spot since Rollins should have been out at third, and we all know Burrell would have found a way to strike out if given antoher chance in that spot.

And, there have been at least 8 or 9 clear missed calls on balls and strikes, most in pretty dam important spots since these are all basically low-scoring, one- and two-run games. Now granted, this new Fox Trax thing where they show the strike zone in a box and then superimpose the path of the pitch on top of it is kinda like the slow-mo replay on check-swings in that it basically always shows the pitch to be a ball. But the key is that these umpires have been inconsistent in how they're calling balls and strikes, both from game to game and even within games. The same umpire has called guys out on strikes with pitches a good 3-4 inches beyond the outside corner of the plate, and then later on in the very same game the same ump is walking a guy on a full count on a pitch that Fox Trax shows to be right on the corner of the plate. It is just highly frustrating to watch as a fan of the game when the calls aren't even being made consistently throughout the game or games.

And oh btw, don't worry both Tom ShitCarver and Joe Fuck mentioned within an inning of Sunday night's missed call on the tag on Jimmy Rollins in the first that that was "another call that went against the Rays." Yeah guys. That's why the Rays aren't winning this series. Because of the umpires. Not the fact that their 3-4 hitters (Pena and Longoria, who had those 58 home runs and 187 RBIs between them during the regular season, the only two actual good hitters on this team through 162 games) are 0 for 29 with 15 strikeouts through four Games after the team hit what, 23 home runs in their two previous series in the playoffs. Not because the Phillies pitching staff, which was supposed to be our weak spot coming in, has given up 2 runs, 4 runs, 4 runs and 2 runs to a team that previously hit those 23 home runs and flat-out hit the cover off the ball in two playoff series against the White Sox and Red Sox. And surely not because in the first four games of the series, the Rays' supposed-to-be-awesome starting rotation has yet to come up with one great game -- maybe Shields in Game 2, but that's the only Rays start that was even close to good -- and in fact for the most part their starters have looked more or less lost right from the beginning, as in giving up runs in the very first inning, and consistently falling behind batters, givein up more leadoff hits and walks than getting leadoff outs through four games, putting the Rays' pitchers constantly in trouble. And the Rays are surely not losing because of the team's what, six errors so far in four games of the World Series. Nope. It's because of the umpires, who have roundly blown multiple calls every game, clearly ones in favor of both teams evenly. These commentators, I hope they both have migraines for a month every time the think of this World Series. What pieces of garbage.

So the big news over the weekend that has contributed most to the Phils' 3-1 series lead has to be team leaders Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins finally waking up their bats in Philadelphia. Rollins started off Games 3 and 4 both 2 for 2, and Howard busted out with his first home run of the postseason in a key spot late in Game 3 when he and Utley went back to back, and then again in Game 4 with the massive 3-run homer in the bottom of the 4th with his all-strength monster opposite field blast to give us a 5-1 lead as well as the 2 run mammoth crushing homer in the bottom of the 8th for the 10-2 lead. Charlie Manuel said this over the weekend and the two idiot announcers mentioned it several times during the Game 4 broadcast, but it is definitely true that Ryan Howard in particular can and has carried this team on his back for hugely long stretches of the season, several years in a row now. The guy is just so effing good when he hits the ball, that even when he strikes out 175 times a season, if he's hitting 50 homers and 150 RBIs in his other 450 at bats, he is simply crushing against the opposition. I'm not sure which of his two home runs on Sunday I was more impressed with. The opposite-fielder in the 4th was quite impressive, the kind of hit that only a small handful of batters in the majors today can consistently muscle out there like he can, but then his homer in the 8th was so sickly crushed that it might have been even better. If I'm the Rays in Game 5 on Monday night, I am thinking long and hard about pitching to Ryan Howard at all when we have that no-good piece of shit Pat Burrell coming up right behind him.

Pat Burrell. This guy just fucking sucks. Everybody in Philly has known this for several years now, and yet somehow outside of this town people cannot help but be mesmerized by his 25+ home runs and 85+ RBIs every season. Please somebody, anybody, take him off our hands. What a fuckstick in the clutch. Here's a proposal to save a lot of time in these games -- every time Burrell is supposed to be up, let's just skip his spot and give us an out. And every third scheduled at-bat for Burrell, we'll give us two outs, just to adjust for all the double plays he hits in to with his lazy slow ass.

It's great seeing the guys who are doing the total opposite of Burrell in the clutch, guys for example like Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz. Look at his average during the regular season (.219, with 4 home runs), and then check him out in the World Series, where he was batting .500 through three games including a crucial home run early in the series to spark us to our 4-2 win in Game 1. Ruiz has been one of the top one or two fielding catchers in the National League all season long, and here in the World Series he has stepped up several times for us behind the plate. Thank you, Carlos Ruiz. The same can be said for Jamie Moyer, who had gotten shelled in his previous two postseason starts in 2008 before painting the corners with his 84-mpg fastball all night long on his way to powering the Phils to their Game 3 victory on Saturday night. And let's not forget Joe Blanton, who came out on Sunday and probably pitched his best game as a Philadelphia Phillie since being acquired from the Oakland A's just before the trading deadline this summer. And I won't even mention how badly he rocked the ball that he put over the left-centerfield fence in the 5th inning on Sunday to help his own cause and lift the Phillies to a 6-2 lead in the gem of a game he had been pitching to that point.

The bottom line so far in this series is this, just as I had been hoping: most of the Rays team, both their pitching and their hitting, is playing scared, nervous and just way too jittery baseball. Their youth and total, raging inexperience is showing all through this World Series so far. They are playing exactly like a bunch of kids would normally be expected to play in their first World Series, their first playoff appearance even after a decade of sicklosing. The Phillies, on the other hand, are getting mostly solid starts from everyone on their staff (other than crazyboy Brett Myers of course, who is basically back to his dicksuckitty self that got his ass sent down to the minors for a few weeks around the middle of summer this year). And even though the Phils have been hitting fairly poorly with runners in scoring position so far in the series (until Game 4 anyways, when they finally went a respectable 4 for 14 with runners on 2nd or 3rd), they are pounding out lots of hits, drawing lots of walks and just generally constantly putting the opposing pitchers in bad situations and forcing them to make mistakes -- just enough mistakes to be up 3-1 through four games. Think about it -- again other than James Shields' start in Game 2 -- when have the Rays pitchers not been in trouble early and often? Sure the Phils have let the team off the hook several times until Game 4 by not stepping up when runners were in position to score, but the fact remains that they have absolutely constantly had runners in scoring position, and as I mentioned above I believe we have gotten out leadoff batters on base more times than we haven't through four full games so far in the World Series. We are all over the Rays on offense, and on defense our pitchers for the most part are pitching great fucking games. And we are fielding the ball pretty well as well, with Ruiz beghind the plate and Feliz at third basecoming up with their same brilliant defensive performances that they did quietly all through the 2008 season in Philly, and Shane Victorino chasing everything down in center field, calling his teammates off loudly and wisely and making every play we need him to make.

So Game Five is on Monday night, once again at 8pm ET, and unfortunately once again on Fox. Cole Hamels against Scott Kasmir once again in a replay of Game 1. Here's hoping the Philly bats that woke up on Game 4 stay hot early and often as they have pretty much all through the series thus far.

Seriously, can somebody tell me -- how the eff am I supposed to actually do work today?

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Blogger Riggstad said...

Pat Burrell will be the hero tonight. I called that in game one.

He has one swing, and can hit one pitch. How it gets thrown to him ever is beyond me.

He had his place in this franchise at one time, but the last three years have been nothing more than charity. Or the lack of an ability to move 50 gabillion dollars in salary for a hasbeen.

But really who cares. I will be disappointed if they lose tonight, as will many others. Not because of the loss, but because of the loss of the ability to celebrate with the team AT HOME.

Dare I say we deserve this????

10:26 PM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Oh clearly we deserve this.

And I was trying to explain to Hammer Wife how truly monumentally huge it would be to give this gift to the hometown fans at the game in Philadelphia tonight. Hopefully Cole and those Philly bats are up to the task one more time.

Dam I hope you are right on Burrell, but I suspect that deep down we both know you are not. He has gone from worthless to far less than that in this series.

10:45 PM  
Blogger Memphis MOJO said...

Is it time for instant replay in baseball? (yeah, I know they have it for HRs)

11:18 PM  
Blogger 1Queens Up1 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:45 AM  
Blogger 1Queens Up1 said...

Jeez im an idiot...

The one point I did want to make is that I can't believe Burrell remained with the team after carrying a .150 to .180 average through 3/4ths the season in 03. Ended with a .209

It would be fitting for him to win the game as his last game as a Philly.

1:07 AM  
Blogger Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

Queensup -- no worries, I saw your original comment and made the changes in my post right away to fix it. 'ppreciate the corrections.

2:30 AM  
Blogger 1Queens Up1 said...

Alright thought I just completely missed sections of your column, lol.

Hey how about Patti Labelle last night? Worst performance of a National Anthem by a professional singer ever?

Bunch of my non-Philly buddies wanted to know why she didn't get booed.

2:44 AM  
Blogger corron10 said...

Pat also has an Ed Wade iron clad no trade clause. I really cant see him taking less to stay and I cant see them paying more to stay. Can you say American League DH... Send him to Toronto for AJ Burnett.

4:27 AM  

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