December 13, 2013
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012
— How have the Tigers and Giants fared against each other in previous postseason encounters? Actually, they've never faced one another in the playoffs. Heading into the League Championship Series, this was the only one of the four potential World Series match-ups that never had happened before.
The Yankees and (New York and San Francisco) Giants have met seven times (1921, '22, '23, '36, '37, '51, '62), with the Bronx Bombers holding a 5-2 advantage. The Cardinals and Yankees have faced off five times (1926, '28, '42, 43, '64), with St. Louis winning three titles. The Cardinals and Tigers have squared off three times (1934, '68, 2006), with the Cards emerging victorious twice.
— Could we be watching both Most Valuable Players in this year's Fall Classic? Buster Posey seems to be the favorite in the National League, while Miguel Cabrera has a strong shot in the American League if those nerdy stats geeks focus just on the numbers.
You know, the Triple Crown, which contains one category (home runs) of obvious value, another (batting average) that is worthwhile in limited situations, and a third (RBI) that has as much to do with the guys hitting in front of a player as with that player's actually ability.
— The Giants are the second team in history to win three do-or-die games twice is a single postseason, joining the 1985 Royals. Kansas City came back from 3-1 deficits against Toronto in the ALCS and St. Louis in the World Series. As we just witnessed, San Francisco overcame a 2-0 hole in this year's best-of-five NLDS against Cincinnati and rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the NLCS.
— In its four League Championship Series wins, San Francisco outscored St. Louis, 27-2. The Cardinals and Yankees combined to score eight runs in their eight LCS losses, with New York looking like a relative powerhouse by plating six runners.
— The Redbirds are the first team to lose four playoff series after having a three-games-to-one lead. They also were the first, and still only, team to lose in three such scenarios. In addition to this season and the '85 World Series mentioned above, St. Louis dropped the 1968 championship to Detroit and the '96 NLCS to Atlanta.
— Boston is the only team to overcome a 3-1 series deficit three times, including the remarkable comeback from a 3-0 hole versus New York in the 2004 ALCS. The Red Sox also rallied against the Angels in the '86 American League Championship Series and the Indians in the 2007 ALCS.
The Royals the Pirates have achieved this feat twice each. KC's triumphs were mentioned above, while Pittsburgh defeated the Washington Senators in the 1925 World Series and Baltimore in the '79 Fall Classic.
We almost always called him Davey May. That sounded more lyrical, more friendly, more fun than Dave May. But Dave May was fitting, too. It’s a short and blunt name, adjectives that fit May’s physical build. Short, stocky, and with legs as thick as mahogany, Dave May looked like a boxer in a baseball uniform.
As a young fan in the 1970s, I usually confused May’s identity. I used to think that he was Carlos May’s brother; like Dave, Carlos was built muscularly and low to the ground. But I was wrong. Carlos was the brother of Lee May; Dave was not related to anyone in the major leagues. At least not yet.
Dave May died over the weekend at the age of 68, a victim of a long struggle with diabetes and cancer. He will forever be remembered as the man who was traded for Hank Aaron. And that’s really not fair, because there is much more to the story here.
May was signed by the Giants in 1961 but never made it to San Francisco’s major league roster. That’s because the Orioles’ organization, which was reaching heights of brilliance in the 1960s, saw fit to take him in the old first-year draft in which minor leaguers could be drafted after only one season.
Being drafted by the Orioles brought mixed blessings. On the plus side, the Orioles taught their minor leaguers the right way to play the game, teaching the fundamentals from the ground up.
From another perspective, they had a deep system full of good enough outfielders, which made the possibility of advancement difficult for a young man like May. Despite hitting consistently in the .300 range, showing some speed, and hitting with flashes of power, May did not make the major leagues until 1967.
Through perseverance, May finally cracked Baltimore’s roster. His positive attitude also helped him. Upbeat and happy, May loved to laugh. The Orioles, along with a few other organizations, took note.
May missed out on the world title season of 1966 and barely would miss out on Baltimore’s dominating championship team of 1970. (He did appear briefly in the 1969 World Series.)
In between those title teams, May struggled to gain traction with the Orioles. He failed to hit higher than .242, which made it difficult to earn a regular job on a team that had so many talented outfielders: established stars in Frank Robinson, Paul Blair, and Don Buford, and prime young flychasers like Curt Motton and Merv Rettenmund.
The Orioles ran out of patience with May in the middle of the 1970 season, trading him to Milwaukee for two obscure pitchers, Dick Baney and Buzz Stephen. The Brewers, playing their first season in Milwaukee after a failed debut as the Seattle Pilots, could afford to give May a starting job. They made May their starting center fielder, watched him play 100 games, and witnessed him flounder with a .240 batting average and only seven home runs.
Then came the breakthrough of 1971. A strong left-handed hitter, May began to show the kind of power/speed combination the Orioles once had forecast for him. He hit 16 home runs, stole 15 bases, and reached base 34 percent of the time.
The 1971 season marked the start of an odd pattern for May: big seasons in odd-numbered calendar years and poor seasons in even-numbered years. Inconsistency plagued May to extremes. In 1972, May’s OPS fell off to a dreadful .643. He also ran the bases poorly, with 13 caught stealing attempts against only 11 stolen bases.
Not to worry. May bounced back with a remarkable 1973, by far his best season. He clubbed 25 home runs, nine better than his next-best total, and batted .303, the only time in his career he bettered .300. He also tied for the American League lead with 295 total bases. May played so well, he made the All-Star team and even finished eighth in the league MVP voting despite playing for a subpar Brewers team.
A horrible 1974 season, in which his OPS dipped below .600, resulted in a trade. The Braves decided to take him and minor league pitcher Roger Alexander as compensation for Aaron, whose wanted to return to Milwaukee and hoped to extend his career as a DH. On the other end, the Braves hoped that May, who was still only 31, might benefit from playing in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium, known as “The Launching Pad.”
The Braves were half-right. When May played, he played well. He put up an on-base percentage of .361 and a slugging percentage of nearly .500. But he also suffered through a string of injuries that curtailed his playing time. The Braves also used him as a platoon player in right field, severely limiting his at-bats against left-handed pitching. By season’s end, May played in only 82 games and accumulated a mere 230 plate appearances.
After a lackluster 1976 season, the Braves made May part of a blockbuster package for Rangers star Jeff Burroughs, who was two seasons removed from an MVP Award. The Braves sent May, fellow outfielder Ken Henderson, pitchers Roger Moret, Carl Morton and Adrian Devine, and $250,000 in cash to Texas for the slugging Burroughs. May did not find Texas to his liking. As a platoon right fielder, he struggled, hitting a below par .241 with only seven home runs.
The 1978 season found May in limbo. Still on the Rangers’ roster, he did not play in April or May. On May 17, the Rangers sold him to Milwaukee, sending him back to the Brewers for a second stint. Playing in a utility outfield role, May didn’t hit at all, prompting him to be sold to the Pirates in mid-September. He appeared in five games before drawing his release that winter. Once again, he missed out on a world championship, as the Pirates would win the World Series in 1979.
Refusing to give up, May decided to continue his career in the ill-fated Inter-American League. He played for Mike Kekich, the manager of the Santo Domingo Azucareros, hit a tepid .265 in 44 games, and watched the league go up in financial flames, bringing to an end his long professional career just as the league came to an abrupt end.
May never returned to organized baseball, but he would contribute to the major leagues in another way. He fathered a son, Derrick May, who would debut for the Cubs in 1990 and would enjoy a journeyman career with six teams over the course of the 1990s. Appropriately, Derrick finished his playing days with the Orioles, the same organization where Dave began his major league career.
Although Dave May was also a journeyman, he had a huge impact on the game. Just consider what Derrick said in describing the number of phone calls his father received in the final days of his life. “I never realized how many people he’s impacted, not only around here [in New Castle] but people in baseball,“ Derrick told Delaware Online. “Dusty Baker called, and Cito Gaston, Willie Horton, Ralph Garr and all these people called just to help him out. He and Johnny Briggs were best friends for 40 years.”
Always bringing laughter to the clubhouse, Dave May touched more than a few lives along the way.
Giants 9, Cardinals 0: Baseball rope-a-dope? The Giants just can't be bothered until an elimination game? A Cardinal choke? An 88-win team finally showing why it only won 88 games? A Giants pitching staff showing everyone that they are the deepest and best in the game? I guess there is some truth in all of that. Whatever you credit for the outcome of the series, however, this Game Seven was an obliteration, and it probably will stick with St. Louis for a long, long time.
For now it doesn't matter, however, as the Giants are National League champs, and the Cardinals are going home to St. Louis, their ascent stalled one win short of the World Series for three straight games. San Francisco will face Detroit. The matchup, on paper, looks excellent, a showdown of two teams with a long and rich history yet who have never faced one another in a World Series. Two great pitching staffs. Two likely MVP winners. Bring. It. On.
The National League Championship Series reaches its climax ... some time in the third inning. Brother, they are not making it easy to write about these games.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Cardinals 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 Giants 1 1 5 0 0 0 1 1 X 9 ( WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Cardinals 12 30 13 2 1 3 1 1 0 Giants 19 16 21 0 0 0 0 0 X WPS Base: 118.9 Best Plays: 27.4 Last Play: 0.0 Grand Total: 146.3
This refrain has gone past familiarity and deep into tediousness. When a team takes a sizable lead in the early innings and prevents its opponent from making any substantial comeback, it is the death of excitement in baseball. Had we not had a couple nice jams before the Giants' breakout in the third, it would have been as bad as the previous night's score of 129.2. The greatest drama in the last six innings was whether the downpour that soaked AT&T Park in the ninth would force a rain delay, but they averted that nightmare.
Once again, a Giants starter shut down the Cardinals with his arm and helped the offense with his bat. Matt Cain's RBI came in the second, a hit straight up the middle and just over Kyle Lohse's glove. On the mound, he pitched 5.2 scoreless innings, a feat that the Giants made look routine in the last three games.
The biggest slip Cain made might just not have been a slip: he hit Game Two villain Matt Holliday in the arm with a pitch. We will probably never know whether this was delayed reprisal for Holliday's take-out slide against Marco Scutaro, though one hopes not. Scutaro got ample revenge by himself, batting a scorching .500 for the NLCS.
The game broke on a bizarre hit, with the score just 2-0 Giants in the third but with the bases loaded and nobody out. The shattering bat of Hunter Pence struck the ball three times before the ball headed through the infield with a wicked spin on it. Pete Kozma broke the wrong way on contact and couldn't flag it down, and Jon Jay misplayed it in the outfield, permitting a third run to score on the play. It deteriorated for the Cardinals from there, Kozma's late throw home on a fielder's choice being a further crusher.
The Giants did not let up. Up seven in the seventh, Bruce Bochy sent Gregor Blanco from first on a no-outs, 3-2 hit-and-run. Brandon Crawford's hit got him to third. Later that inning, Angel Pagan tried to go second-to-home on an infield error by Kozma, who managed to throw him out at the plate for the third out. This crosses into the nebulous territory of the unwritten rules that discourage teams from showing up whipped opponents. Whether such codes exist in a postseason elimination game is a debatable point, and the Cardinals made no noticeable beef about it.
With the League Championship round completed, we can take a quick look back at how exciting both series were. The capsule conclusion: we just balanced the books on the excitement we got from the LDS quartet.
The Tigers-Yankees matchup got off to a hot start, then cratered. The combined WPS score of the four games was 1290.5, finishing a hair more exciting than the 2006 Tigers-A's ALCS to come in as the third least-exciting LCS ever. This isn't as completely awful as it sounds: it was only the sixth four-game sweep in LCS history, so it's middle of the pack for those. That is about as much sugar-coating as the Tigers' sweep will bear, though.
The lone sweetener for the Giants-Cardinals series is that it went the distance. None of the seven games cracked the approximate WPS median of 300. The whole series added up to a WPS of 1427.8. This is not only the least exciting LCS to go seven, it's the least exciting of any seven-game postseason series to go the limit. And it was less exciting than any seven-game series that went just six! (The previous record-holder there was the 1930 World Series. The Cardinals lost that one, too.) One hopes the World Series will be a reaction to the LCS tedium and burn some serious barns.
Speaking of which, it's the Tigers and the Giants starting Wednesday. The good news for baseball purists is that, whether due to the new wild-card system or not, there is no wild card in this year's championship. The bad news is that the American League representative sports the seventh-best regular-season record in the junior circuit.
Somewhere deep inside MLB's corporate headquarters, Bud Selig is doing his best Doctor Evil laugh.