October 24, 2012
(Commissioner’s note to Society Members: This is a long post simply because there is just so much to talk about from the NLCS, and of course, I love to talk. I appreciate getting to express my views here and I hope you will read this post (and others) at your leisure, but I understand if you prefer to skip down to the current standings reported at the bottom of the post. FYI, it’s now a two-man race, just like in the World Series and presidential election.)
I wrote at length in my post last week about 3 teams of apparent destiny in this year’s MLB post-season; yet I did not mention the St Louis Cardinals or the San Francisco Giants. Clearly my focus on the A’s, O’s and Nats was a mistake, as none of those teams even made it to their league championship series. I should have paid more attention to the past two MLB World Champions, each of which had earned a return trip to the post-season and had shown signs that one fulfilled destiny does not preclude the possibility of another, and might even indicate it.
However, I felt, and I am sure you feel, that I have pondered too much about the role of Divine intervention and pre-destination in the outcome of sporting events (although, as one B.A.B.E.S. member reminded me this week, the Texas Rangers are still “the team that can’t win”). But just when I was ready to leave behind this sports theology obsession along came one of the weirdest plays in MLB history that cemented one of the unlikeliest comebacks in a post-season series (or series of series), and which compels me to conclude, once again, that larger forces are at play in the outcome of MLB’s post-season.
The Cardinals were “the team that wouldn’t lose” in 2011 and appeared intent on retaining that mantle in 2012. Despite being buried by CIN in the NL Central division, they held off LAD and MIL for the first ever second wild card position, and then defeated ATL in the first post-season play-in game (with the help of the deepest in-field fly in MLB history). Most impressive of all, the Cardinals “refused to lose” even when down 6-0 to the Nats in an elimination game that included a 9th inning rally reminiscent of their performance in Game 6 in the 2011 World Series. The 6-run deficit was the largest ever overcome in a post-season elimination game. Therefore, these Birds, though not Angry, appeared determined and destined not to lose again.
At the same time, the Giants were also doing something that had never been done: dropping the first two games of a 5 game series at home and then winning 3 straight on the road at CIN. Was SFO about to recapture its own magic of 2010 even without baseball’s thickest, blackest and, frankly, creepiest beard? (Am I the only one who thinks Brian Wilson is really Steve Carell with a ridiculous fake beard? Google pictures of both characters and decide for yourself.)
So, which is it? The sheer power of the players’ refusal to lose, or a Divine decree that pre-ordains the outcome? I pondered anew. And then, suddenly, I was given a revelation that it could be – and really must be – both. I came upon this while helping my daughter with her 11th grade American History assignment on westward expansion. I was looking at the textbook and there was the proof, right there in black and white letters and color pictures. The strength of our great nation was its overwhelming sense of entitlement to this land by Divine decree.
In the 19th century, thousands upon thousands of Americans and soon-to-be Americans left St. Louis (don’t you love the arch cut into the outfield at Busch Stadium?) heading west to claim the Pacific Ocean as our western border. No geological mountain was too high and no hostile indigenous population or European nation was too fierce to stop the westward march of these United States. As God had led the Pilgrims to the shores of the Atlantic, so He would lead our citizens to the shores of the Pacific. It was Manifest Destiny, the ultimate collaboration between God and Man. See what studying history while watching a baseball game can do for you?
Therefore, to me it was only fitting that the victorious St. Louis Cardinals would then travel from our Nation’s capital, not to their home in the Gateway City, but all the way to San Francisco’s Golden Gate for the NLCS. There they would face the indomitable Giants – a sports franchise that succumbed to the allure of western expansion even 100 years after California was admitted as the 31st member of the United States. Although Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley rightfully gets credit for taking MLB to the West Coast in 1957 (and blame for destroying the hearts of Brooklyn fans), he could not have done it without the agreement of the NY Giants’ ownership to move their team west at the same time.
Interestingly, this NLCS would be the first time the winners of the two previous World Series had met in the post-season, and together these successive champions hold 17 World Series titles. In addition to this collective proud history and the shared momentum of stirring comebacks, it would also be a classic match-up of great pitching (SFO) against great hitting (STL). We all know who usually wins those contests, but STL quickly jumped ahead 3 games to 1 and still looked like the team that wouldn’t lose. But then the mantle was loosened, and the Series forced back to the City, by a stellar pitching performance from Barry Zito (of all people!). Who could possibly have predicted (or caused) that except an omniscient, omnipotent being?
Before the baseball-bashing Cardinals knew it, they had scored only one run in 18 innings and found themselves in another Game 7. But not to worry, they had won 6 consecutive elimination games dating back to last post-season and had won 11 Game 7’s in franchise history – the most by any MLB team. Sure, the Giants had won 5 consecutive elimination games this post-season, but in their franchise’s rich history there had NEVER been a Game 7 victory (5 losses in 5 tries). Let’s see, 11 Game 7 victories for STL, zero for SFO. Advantage STL, right?
Well, streaks are made to be broken, and inevitably all are. But has ever one been broken with a broken bat? Or by a broken bat double or triple-hit base-clearing double, or was it a triple? (Has a sentence ever been written that used the words “double” and “triple” 4 times, and as both adjectives and nouns?) And could such a weird play have come off the bat of anyone but Hunter Pence, whose ugly playing style and quirky personality actually resemble the flight of his hit – in the hole at short, no – up the middle, in front of the centerfielder, no – under his glove! Does “Angels in the Outfield” come to mind? (And speaking of resemblances, also Google pictures of Hunter Pence and Woody Harrelson….)
In all probability, SFO was on its way to winning this game even without the presence of a baseball Holy Spirit. As it had done in sweeping three games against CIN, SFO’s pitching continued to dominate the Cards, who scored the most runs during the season and had done the same in the post-season until scoring only ONE run in the last 27 innings of the NLCS. Also, the Giants bats came alive, even those that didn’t shatter, and a classic unlikely post-season hero appeared in the form of Marco Scutaro. (Do you think he pronounces his name with the accent on the first syllable to be associated with Phil Rizutto – the Scooter?) Clearly these Giants were capable of helping themselves to the NL Pennant, but a little Divine intervention was welcome when it came.
So, there it is – the mystery of the ages has been revealed. There is a God and He loves baseball. He gifts certain players with abilities that appear so natural that we view them as gods. He also creates David-like characters who prevail in the unlikeliest fashion against the tallest of odds. Remember these truths Wednesday night when you are watching god-like Justin Verlander pitch to David-like Marco Scutaro, and think about Manifest Destiny. Personally, I’m going with SFO’s Golden Gate David over DET’s back-East Goliath. But then I’ve already shown that I have no direct communication with the Great Commissioner. Just look at the scoring below.
THE FINALISTS FOR THE JAMES L. WALKER AWARD (“THE ROCKY”)
Steve J. – CIN (3) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) Cabrera (10) DET (6) SFO (6) correctly picking the two league champions is a brilliant performance, worthy of the name “expert.” If DET wins the Series and Cabrera wins the AL MVP, Steve will not only win The Rocky, he’ll set a new points record.
29 points –
Tim T. – SFO (3) ATL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Cabrera (10) DET (6) In order to best Steve, Tim must now must pull for SFO to win the Series even though he picked DET. If a Cubs fan wins the B.A.B.E.S. title in his first try, what does that portend for the Cubbies in ’13?
POSSIBLE ALL-STAR TEAM SELECTIONS:
Matt B. – STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1) Cabrera (10) DET (6) Matt can do no better than 3rd due to matching picks with Steve and Tim (DET as WS champ and Verlander as AL Cy Young), but an impressive B.A.B.E.S. debut.
Marc W. – CIN (3) ATL (1) SFO (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) SFO (6) – could move up with Price as AL Cy Young. A good showing by perennial B.A.B.E.S. contender.
Carl R. – CIN (3) ATL (1) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) DET (6) – possible 32 points still on the board with DET in WS, Cabrera as AL MVP and Verlander as AL Cy Young. 51 would be a B.A.B.E.S points record but would still fall to the better new record that would be established by Steve, who has 2 of the same 3 picks.
Bruce R. – SFO (3) STL (1) ATL (3) DET (3) TEX (3) SFO (6) – nice SFO pick but scoring is done for his inaugural season
Leo G. – SFO (3) STL (3) WAS (3) STL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – we won’t have our first repeat B.A.B.E.S. champ this year.
Pete H. – STL (1) SFO(1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) Posey (10) – only Verlander with a chance among his player picks
Thomas F. – SFO (3) CIN (3) ATL (3) STL (3) DET (3) TEX (3) – only possible player pick is Verlander.
Gus P. – SFO (3) STL (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) SFO (6) – likely to score with Cabrera and perhaps Verlander, but not enough.
Eric H. – SFO (3) CIN (3) DET (3) NYY (3) TEX (3) – Could still move up with Price as AL Cy Young.
Tony L. – CIN (3) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – this perennial contender needs to score with Cabrera as AL MVP and Weaver as AL Cy Young in order to avoid the conclusion that he is an aging star past his prime, just like all of his beloved Yankees.
Jed M. – SFO (3) STL (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1), Needs Verlander to repeat as Cy Young to finish in the middle of the pack.
READY FOR OFF-SEASON WORK-OUTS AND HOPING FOR THE COMEBACK AWARD IN ‘13
Rob C. – SFO (3) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – Weaver as Al Cy Young could improve his finish, but still waiting till next year!
Tom M.- SFO (3) STL (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – Verlander as AL Cy Young could make his showing respectable, despite that NYY World Series pick;
Bill C. – STL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (3) – no reward for his faithfulness to NYY
Rip L. – STL (1) ATL (1) SFO (1) TEX (1) DET (3) NYY (1) – only Verlander as AL Cy Young can improve his standing
Scott R. – STL (1) DET (3) NYY (1) TEX (3) – I thought I might gain a measure of respectability with STL making the Series. Alas, God is striving mightily to keep me humble, and He can do it.
Jennifer R. – ATL (3) TEX (1) – No offense to the babest of the B.A.B.E.S., but aren’t the rest of us thankful that she finished last?
© JSR 2012