The early winners in both series are coming back from losses in their most recent game, hoping to turn the momentum back their way. They really just want to win, but they’ll talk about momentum.
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Red Sox 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 1 Tigers 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 (Red Sox lead series 2-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Red Sox 5 13 6 6 7 18 28 19 4 Tigers 15 5 6 6 23 8 30 64 48 WPS Base: 309.5 Best Plays: 68.1 Last Play: 5.0 Grand Total: 382.6
The customary double-barreled offensive shutdown kept WPS scores low for the first half of the game, but they also kept the contest knotted up, primed for big Win Expectancy swings late. That is what happened. The last half had rallies that built up good scores, then great scores, producing a well above-average total. The highest-scoring single play of the day was not Mike Napoli‘s home run, but the double play in the ninth that wiped Victor Martinez‘s leadoff hit off the bases, taking Detroit from a 34.6 percent Win Expectancy to 5.0 percent. it isn’t always offense that drives big numbers, which was a good thing for this game.
Through this contest, there had been 26 games so far in the 2013 postseason. Seven times teams have been shut out, and 10 more times teams have scored just one run. Four times, both have happened in the same game. This was the fourth 1-0 final of the playoffs, which could already be a record for a single year before we reach the World Series. I’m not looking that up just yet. Let the stats department at Fox or TBS handle it: they need to earn their pay, too.
The early storyline in the game had nothing to do with play on the field. In the middle of the second inning, the lights at Comerica Park went out when a power substation had an outage. Despite having adequate natural daylight on an overcast day, at least for two innings, maybe more, the umpires called a halt to the game until the lights could be powered back up. The result was a 17-minute delay.
This mystifies me. Is the game so over-refined that we need absolutely perfect conditions in which to play? Are they over-compensating for Bud Selig making the Phillies and Rays play through a near-typhoon in Game Five of the 2008 World Series, until the Rays tied the game and it could be safely suspended? I’ve been grumbling about what MLB and the networks make us go through to watch playoff baseball: four hours for a 1-0 game and such. They didn’t need to pile on with me. It’s rude for any business to do this to its customers. Businesses that are rude to customers soon have fewer customers.
One valid fear about the suspension was what having to wait would do to the pitchers. I need not have worried about that. John Lackey put a two-hit first behind him and retired the Tigers in order the next three innings, with five strikeouts. Justin Verlander didn’t improve: he struck out the side before the delay and struck out the side after it.
Verlander was not actually perfect, but he gave a fine imitation for a long while. In the fourth, David Ortiz muscled a ball to the warning track in left-center, drawing a visible “Whew!” from Andy Dirks as he caught it. Verlander lost his no-hitter with two outs in the fifth to a Jonny Gomes infield hit, the earliest the Tigers had lost a no-hitter in four games. (A wide throw caused boos on the scorer’s ruling.) The pitch before, catcher Alex Avila had chased a foul ball to the edge of the Tigers’ dugout but pulled up and let it fall just at the top of the stairs.
Tim McCarver criticized Avila’s hesitant play. A catcher should run fast to reach a fence or other boundary, he opined, then back off from there if necessary to make the catch. I’ve made a running joke of giving McCarver a hard time for things he says on the air, but not now. As a major-league catcher for over 20 seasons, his truest area of expertise is here. The Tim-ism project is suspended for one game. Good insight, Tim. I won’t even mind if you make a habit of it.
Verlander continued to show hints of weakness. He did good work holding Jacoby Ellsbury on first base in the sixth inning, only to let him advance after all on a wild pitch. When Napoli finally put one where Ortiz had, only longer, it felt again like that was all the leading team would need. Boston would actually need some clutch pitching in the last innings, as well.
Lackey wasn’t quite as flashy, but he was just as effective, and even more so in the “R” column where it counts. He could be seen swearing when John Farrell pulled him with two outs in the seventh, after 97 pitches. Craig Breslow gave up a walk to push the tying run to second but closed down the inning afterward.
Boston relievers would have more trouble in the eighth, as Austin Jackson walked and Torii Hunter singled him to third with one out. The familiar strains of “MVP!” resounded through Comerica, but Junichi Tazawa struck out Miguel Cabrera. Koji Uehara then came in to fan Prince Fielder. Both big Detroit bats were hacking hard, maybe too hard, looking for the cheap seats.
The Tigers charged again in the ninth with a Martinez leadoff single, but it was costly, as he hurt his left leg stopping after rounding first. We’ll see if that was pain or injury. Uehara bore down and got a double play out of Jhonny Peralta, and after that, striking out Avila must have seemed easy.
The series resumes Wednesday night. If they have a power outage then, I will be more forgiving of the umpires. And much less forgiving of Detroit in general. (Like I’m the biggest of their problems.)
Game 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 F Cardinals 0 0 3 0 0 0 1 0 0 4 Dodgers 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 2 (Cardinals lead series 3-1) WPS 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Cardinals 4 10 41 2 15 16 20 7 4 Dodgers 4 24 4 48 19 17 20 7 24 WPS Base: 285.5 Best Plays: 45.7 Last Play: 1.1 Grand Total: 332.3
Some game had to have two starting pitchers who were mortal, and this one drew the short straw, even if it didn’t end up any kind of slugfest. That helped give us some WPS movement earlier on than we’re used to this round. Constant scoring threats from the fifth through the seventh kept the points mounting, so the dip near the end didn’t keep the game from finishing above average.
The walking wounded came back out for tonight’s game, but some didn’t stay the route. Andre Ethier made it the whole way, but Hanley Ramirez was having a harder time with his cracked rib, at bat and in the field, and came out after six innings. David Freese, pulled from Game Three for tightness in his leg, was also subbed out early, though it may have been a defensive maneuver rather than an injury matter. His replacement in the field ended up doing some good work.
The Cardinals got everything they needed in the third, though for a while it didn’t look that way. Matt Holliday‘s no-doubt homer made it 3-0, but L.A. soon put together a comeback. Adrian Gonzalez began it with a double and a repetition of his arm-waving celebration that ticked off Adam Wainwright last night. After an Ethier walk, Yasiel Puig hit an RBI single that got the crowd cheering so loud, one Dodger had his ears covered in the dugout as Gonzalez came in. A.J. Ellis drove in a second run, but Skip Schumaker, pinch-hitting as starter Ricky Nolasco got the hook, hit into a two-fer to end the inning.
L.A. had another chance in the sixth on Puig’s second single of the night. Here the removal of Freese paid dividends. Pete Kozma, installed at short as Daniel Descalso slid over to Freese’s spot at third, ranged wide for a Juan Uribe grounder to start a great double play, Carpenter getting the throw off accurately to first as Puig slid hard to take him out.
The Cardinals added insurance in the seventh on an unlikely pinch-hit homer by Shane Robinson, just over the wall in left. (He’d stay in on a double-switch, moving to left field as Matt took a Holliday.) The tradition that made an ugly appearance at Fenway Park on Sunday night has spread to Chavez Ravine: after some insistent chanting of “Throw it back!”, Robinson’s home run ball got returned to left field. No word on whether it had to be ripped out of a fan’s hand.
The Dodgers had another chance in the seventh when Nick Punto, in for the hurting Ramirez, smashed a double over a shallow Jon Jay‘s head. He took a wide lead looking for third, and Kozma got behind him and picked him off, his second critical defensive play of the night. That was almost the last gasp for Los Angeles. Ethier did get aboard to start the ninth, his second hit, but Puig’s perfect evening (two hits and a walk) ended badly on a double-play ball that made the final out a formality—just like the Red Sox and Tigers.
With the games in L.A., television coverage has done a bit of star-gazing. Dodgers part-owner Magic Johnson gets plenty of screen time, though he’s a special case. Last night the broadcast picked out Dustin Hoffman in the stands. Tonight, they located Tom Cruise in what looked like a luxury box, while I spotted Pat Sajak in a front-row seat. You may object to my calling Sajak a star, but look at it this way: which do you think had more viewers, the latest week of Wheel of Fortune, or the first week in release of Cruise’s latest movie? (Bonus points if you can name Cruise’s last movie without resorting to IMDb.)
A greater matter for objection may be that, a few years ago, I saw Sajak at Angels playoff games. In New York, you have to choose Yankees or Mets. In Chicago, it’s Cubs or White Sox, not both. Are Angelenos more casual about splitting one’s baseball loyalties? This is an honest question, not snark.
Wednesday brings two games again, one of which could close out the NLCS. Should that happen, Friday would be something we have not seen since mid-July: a day without baseball. The end isn’t here, but we can see it from here.