WPS recap: LCS, 10/12/2013

Both leagues played on this day, with a pretty fair chance that the excitement of both games combined would not match up to that of the lone game played the previous day. We can get a little spoiled sometimes.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Dodgers    0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0    0
Cardinals  0   0   0   0   1   0   0   0   X    1
(Cardinals lead series 2-0)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Dodgers   11   5   5   6  13  60  20  12  15    
Cardinals 24   5   5  14  25   4   4   4   X  
WPS Base: 231.1  Best Plays: 42.6  Last Play: 3.3  Grand Total: 277.0

We see again how tension, in the form of domination by pitchers Michael Wacha and Clayton Kershaw in the first half of the game, does not equate to excitement. Batters managing partial success without putting across runs can manufacture some nice WPS numbers. Batters going down one after another does not.

But it can make for a gratifyingly brisk pace. Ah, Michael Wacha. You broke the Pirates’ hearts … but you pitch so quickly I might be able to forgive you that. If only you didn’t keep getting afternoon starts. If you pitched at night, I’d have a fighting chance to be asleep by midnight. You’re not bad either, Clayton.

Yasiel Puig came into this series as arguably the most interesting player remaining in the postseason. He succeeded in interesting ways; he failed in interesting ways. So far against St. Louis, he’s managed only the failure. He went 0 for 6 in the first game with two strikeouts, and today went 0 for 4, taking el sombrero de oro. Also, on Matt Carpenter‘s slashing hit leading off the first inning, he couldn’t cut off the ball, tore up some grass falling as he slid past, then mishandled it before throwing back in. What might have been a single became a triple.

This provided excitement of the high-wire variety, and Kershaw did not fall off, getting a pop, K, and grounder to escape with a zero on the board. Then things went into stasis, with no hits by anyone in the next three frames. Kershaw got into the same situation in the fifth, this time on David Freese‘s double and a passed ball. Jon Jay knocked him off the tightrope with a sac fly, setting up Wacha’s balancing act in the sixth.

Wacha gave up a single to his counterpart Kershaw, then a Carl Crawford grounder that Carpenter made a sliding stop on. He went not to first to get the speedy Crawford, but tried a force at second to nail the slower Kershaw. He threw it wild, and the runners ended up on second and third. Wacha induced a pop-out by Mark Ellis, then walked Adrian Gonzalez intentionally. You know how Puig’s at-bat ended if you’ve paid attention, though he battled from 0-2 to a full count before the final fan. Uribe went down hacking too, and the big number below the six up there shows that was the exciting way to have a scoreless inning.

Kershaw and his successors would allow nothing more than the most boring way to have a scoreless inning from there on, for what it was worth. I wondered about, if not fully questioned, Kershaw being pulled for a pinch hitter in the seventh with two out and a man on. He had pitched effectively, with just 72 pitches in six innings, but his control had had lapses, and the Cards had gotten a couple of extra-base hits off him. Kershaw’s a pretty good hitter for a pitcher, too, but the step up to Michael Young, even considering the two outs, was too great to decline.

The move didn’t work—Young flied out—but Dodger relievers kept a firm lid on the Cardinals. They gave their offense the chance to get them back into the game. it didn’t happen.

Trevor Rosenthal, after two high-leverage innings the previous night, came out in the ninth to close and showed no ill effects from his exertion, striking out the side. Yes, Puig was one of them, but it still counts.

The Dodgers may well have been hampered by their injuries. Hanley Ramirez, who took a baseball in the ribs early in Game One, was out of the game, unable to swing a bat and sent out to get X-rays. (They were negative: it’s just a bad bruise.) Andre Ethier didn’t start either, his ankle apparently not 100 percent yet, though he did pinch-hit to make the final out. L.A.’s faithful have to hope these two get well soon: there may not be much time left.

Game       1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9    F
Tigers     0   0   0   0   0   1   0   0   0    1
Red Sox    0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0   0    0
(Tigers lead series 1-0)
WPS        1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9
Tigers    11   5  11   6  40  38  11  20  22    
Red Sox   17  15   5   6   7  37  11  14  49    
WPS Base: 324.1  Best Plays: 42.4  Last Play: 14.5  Grand Total: 381.0

The WPS system isn’t partial to games that provide tension rather than excitement. It isn’t partial to 1-0 games. It really isn’t partial to games that see a no-hitter go into the ninth. But this game had so much action, it wrung something close to the best score it could have out of a 1-0 near no-hitter. It wrung a lot more out of its viewers.

Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez was not throwing a classic kind of no-no, unless you’re thinking of Nolan Ryan in his wilder days. Sanchez allowed six walks, threw two wild pitches, and ran up a big pitch count fast, starting with 51 pitches through two innings. He left after six, sitting on 116 pitches, so there’s no second-guessing that hook: he was never, ever going nine tonight. Three relievers carried the torch, but the fourth, Joaquin Benoit, had the flame go out on his watch. (That recently happened with the Sochi Olympics torch, too. No baseball players were involved.)

Jon Lester had some intriguing allies in the stands behind the plate: some people raising paddles with Japanese characters whenever he completed a strikeout. I recognize the three parallel lines as meaning “three.” Presumably the more complex character stood for “strike.” Also presumably, the paddles were brought for the benefit of Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara, but got earlier use. They did come back out in the ninth for Uehara.

Miguel Cabrera‘s injury woes definitely hurt the team this night. With two gone in the first, he hit a one-hopper to the Monster that bounced past Daniel Nava, but he couldn’t exploit the misplay and stayed at first. Prince Fielder‘s liner to center ricocheted off Jacoby Ellsbury‘s hip, but again a slowed Cabrera couldn’t take the extra base. He should have been on second for Fielder’s hit, and that should have brought him home. Victor Martinez grounded out, and Detroit lost a run.

Anibal Sanchez got through a rugged first by striking out four batters. Yes, four: there was a dropped third strike. A TV graphic identified the only other four-K inning in postseason history: Orval Overall in the 1908 World Series, pitching for the Cubs against the Tigers. I was quickly ready with further facts—that it was in the decisive Game Five, in the first inning, and the K+WP in question loaded the bases—but Tim McCarver and the producer in his earpiece later covered that ground.

Okay, Tim, I’ll raise you. Overall’s wild K was the third of the inning, and the fourth got Germany Schaefer, preserving a 1-0 lead. Schaefer is famous as one of the few men ever to steal first base. But that’s for another time.

A comparative study on an unwritten rule of baseball.

Boston players and fans did not like how the umpires called the game. Joe West’s strike zone for Sanchez drew the first complaints, then they snowballed to the corner base umps on check swings, and on to calls in the field, notably Victor Martinez’s grounder in the sixth that he just beat to first to foil a double play that would have ended the inning. (Replay showed he legitimately beat it.) Jhonny Peralta‘s following single drove Cabrera home, and one could clearly see the pain and tenderness as he walked into the dugout afterward.

The complaints only mounted as the game stretched onward. Exclamations burst forth from the batter’s box, from the dugout, and constantly from the stands. Big cheers arose when a check-swing call swung their way. If anything would have spoiled the no-hitter had it occurred, it would have been the perception, in Red Sox’s minds and maybe more broadly, that they were getting jobbed by the umpires. My perception was that there were a lot of close calls, but reasonable ones. Mine is surely not the lone opinion on that matter.

A Detroit rally in the ninth was scuppered by the problem of Miguel Cabrera once again. He had been lifted for defensive purposes, and when his spot came up with two men in scoring position and one out, Don Kelly was in his place. He whiffed on three straight, looking awful. That could really have hurt, had Boston put together a rally.

And they did threaten, but just threaten. Daniel Nava broke up the attempt at history with one out, and then his pinch-runner, Quintin Berry, swiped second with two outs. As the stands rang with a Bennnnn-oiiiiit! chant, Xander Bogaerts could only pop out to short.

All told, Detroit’s five pitchers threw 17 strikeouts on the night. That ties Bob Gibson‘s mark in Game One of the 1968 World Series, and I assume it thus ties the mark for the most strikeouts by one team in a nine-inning postseason game.

I did try to keep my ears open for a Tim-ism tonight, but the only one I collected defeats the premise. Late in the contest, McCarver opined, “This is a 1-0 ball game, but it feels like 9-8 instead of 1-0.” Tim-isms are supposed to be fatuous or block-headed, but I have to agree with McCarver. This thing felt like a heavyweight prize fight, from the era when they went 15 rounds. There was enough incident and passion to fill up a 9-8 game.

But what really made me agree is that it lasted as long as you’d expect a 9-8 game to last. Four hours. Four hours to play a 1-0 baseball game. I know I’ve been harping on this. Maybe it makes me seem wimpy to want a non-ridiculous bedtime when I write up these recaps. But four hours per run is not a sustainable ratio.

And tomorrow we get Clay “Sundial” Buchholz pitching again. I am crossing my fingers for another 1-0 game—it would be the third straight in the LCS round—because I don’t want to find out how long he would take to pitch something that ended 9-8.

Oh, and answering the question posed at the top: Yes, these two games combined did beat the WPS score of Dodgers-Cards Game One, 658.0 to 640.2. Something would really have been wrong if they hadn’t.

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A writer for The Hardball Times, Shane has been writing about baseball and science fiction since 1997. His stories have been translated into French, Russian and Japanese, and he was nominated for the 2002 Hugo Award.
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Too bad they don’t use a merit system for post season umpires.  Then again, maybe no one would qualify.  This rotation thing gets some lousy umpiring in my mind.

Yes, 17 strikeouts by one team in a Championship Series game is the new record besting the old record of 15 done 4 times.

Morgan Conrad
Morgan Conrad
I only watched the first few innings and the last two, but, according to my Mark I eyeball, and Fox’s Pitchtrak thingie, the strike zone seemed pretty good.  The pitch Lester asked about between innings was definitely outside.  And the check swings seemed consistent at least – the 1st inning strikeout/wild pitch came on a borderline check swing too. Is it my anti-east coast bias (and I’m pulling for Detroit), or do the Sox (and Yankees) players do (what I really mean is get away with) a *lot* more barking and visible questioning of balls and strikes than other teams? … Read more »