October 25, 2004
A big thanks to Jonah Keri for filling this space yesterday in the wake of Saturday's Game One. I'm definitely disappointed that I saw so little of the game, and more so that I couldn't do a column on it. It was the much more interesting of the two weekend games, and the buildup to Game Two was filled with issues.
Game Two itself was rather bland, especially given the way the series opened. Once again, Curt Schilling had his ankle sutured to allow him to push off of it. One again, it worked well enough that he was able to throw strikes for six innings, reaching as high as 93 on the Fox gun, from what I saw. He still didn't seem 100% mechanically, but that he could have two starts as good as his last two, given the condition of that ankle, is amazing.
I confess that I've never been a big fan of Schilling, who has always come across to me as a bit self-aware and self-serving in his populism, but I can't help but have a ton of respect for what he's done over the last week, which in turn has made him more likable to me. Sports media spends a lot of its time blathering about "character" and "heart," usually for no more reason than a guy's line drive happened to be hit in the right spot. Pitching through an injury that should have ended your season, while undergoing radical, if minor, medical procedures to do so, is an actual demonstration of heart, one that everyone should appreciate.
Whether the Red Sox win two more games or not, Schilling is the story of this October.
I get occasional questions about his Hall of Fame chances. He still needs to build some bulk numbers, something that will require at least two more seasons of effective pitching. His postseason this year is the kind of thing that gives voters a reason to put you in Cooperstown over and above your stats, though. Between his strong season and his playoff performance, he's helped his induction chances more than any other player in 2004.
Matt Morris became the second straight Cardinals starter to exit early. This is one we should have seen coming, given that Morris had never started on short rest and that he'd wrestled with durability issues all year long. Add in the body of work done by starters on short rest in recent years, and it wasn't surprising that he was on the bench before the end of the fifth inning. At no point did he look comfortable, and the absence of the Big Matt Morris Curveball was notable.
If these first two games didn't kill the idea that pitching and defense win in the postseason, nothing will. The myth that postseason games are all close and low-scoring, won by the team that does the best job with productive outs, has persisted even after the last few years of barnburner after barnburner. The Sox are up 2-0 in games despite having made eight errors in the two contests, errors that could well have cost them both games if not for their bats on Saturday and some good pitching out of jams on Sunday. That's not small ball; that's big ball.
Some of the bad defense, especially on Sunday, can be attributed to the conditions. It was cool and damp last night, and got cooler and damper as the night wore on. Baseball, as a tactile sport of small movements, wasn't designed to be played in adverse weather conditions. It doesn't always have to be 70 degrees and sunny, but once you get into the 40s, and once a mist sets in, the game becomes difficult to play. It's not unreasonable to suggest that last night's game could have been postponed.
Remember, however, that game days and times are dictated by television, rather than by the best conditions for baseball. Now, I understand the argument for playing playoff games at night during the week; I even defended the decision to play two LCSs games at the same time on a Wednesday rather than push one of them into the day. The continental U.S. spans four time zones, and you have to try and give people in all of those zones an opportunity to see the game while not having to miss work to do so.
The weekends are a different story. People are home, and sports are played and televised during the day. The first two games of the World Series should be played during the day, or at least the early evening, with a 4 p.m. EDT start time. This would help quite a bit with the cold, and also address the legitimate concerns of East Coast fans who put up with a lot of late nights in October. Everyone would be able to watch the games, and if they conflict with the NFL, well, maybe it's time MLB stopped acting like a beaten dog and stepped up.
Fox is only partially to blame here. At some point, MLB stopped taking on broadcast partners and started taking broadcast masters, cashing checks and standing aside. They've allowed their telecasts to be mishandled, both from an aesthetic standpoint--the complete inability to stay with one shot between pitches has gotten out of control--and from a scheduling one. The weekday games? Fine, play them at night. Even the last two games of the Series can be played at night, if it comes to that. But for crying out loud, does starting the first two games of the Series at 8:15 p.m. Eastern benefit anyone but News Corporation? It's bad for the players, it's bad for the fans with tickets, and it's not doing anything for the people on the West Coast.
A league's championship should be contested under the best possible conditions, which include raucous crowds and acceptable weather. A neutral site is one of the biggest problems with the Super Bowl, where the crowd is so divided that it never seems to be a championship atmosphere. MLB can't control the weather, but they can put the odds in their favor. Daytime starts on the weekend are a solution with no downside.
The conditions in St. Louis will be interesting. Lows in the high 50s are forecast, but the bigger issue is the thunderstorms expeced to roll through on Tuesday and Wednesday. The downside of improved groundskeeping and drainage is that baseball gets played in the rain a lot more often than it used to, because the fields hold up in bad weather. It would be a shame if one of the games this week was decided because the best players in the world were asked to play in conditions not suitable for the game they're playing.
Back tomorrow with some stuff on Game Three and an attempt at clearing some of the leftovers from the first two rounds.