April 17, 2000
The Daily Prospectus
The Wild Weekend
To quote a commercial I saw far too often this weekend: "Too much good stuff." That was baseball the past few days, one of those weekends that had all the variety and all the storylines that keep fans coming back year after year.
The biggest story was in Minnesota, of all places, where Cal Ripken broke out of a slump with a three-hit game Saturday night, the last of the hits his 3,000th. Ripken gets more attention for The Streak than for his on-field accomplishments, which is a shame, because he will retire as the second-best shortstop in the game's history.
The Streak probably isn't even Ripken's signature mark on the game. His greatest legacy will be that he played shortstop, and played it very well, as a tall, lanky man. Ripken proving that a player of his size could be an everyday shortstop, and a good one, paved the way for the super shortstops we see today, players who might have been moved off their positions in earlier decades.
By extension, Ripken is a contributor to the offensive explosion we see today. No longer are certain positions deemed "defensive", with teams content to put a light-hitting glove man somewhere and suffer his bat. Teams want to get offense from everywhere, and the best teams put nine-man lineups on the field with no easy outs anywhere. Ripken's success as a shortstop was a big part in the way the game changed.
One of the shortstops inheriting Ripken's legacy had himself a good old time this weekend. Alex Rodriguez capped a big series in Toronto with three home runs on Sunday, part of a 19-run barrage that was itself part of a three-day, 47-run orgy at the expense of the Blue Jays. With all due respect to Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra, Rodriguez is the best of the Trinity, and has a reasonable chance to be one of the ten best players in the game's history.
That sweep calls into serious question the health of the Blue Jays' young pitchers. Two of them, Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter were bludgeoned for 12 runs in 7 1/3 innings Saturday and Sunday. Along with Kelvim Escobar, they all sport ERAs above 7.00 early in the season, this on top of unimpressive 1999 campaigns and, in Carpenter's case, injury problems. The Blue Jays have a good offense, but if Carpenter, Halladay and Escobar don't develop, they have no chance to make any noise in the AL East for the next few years.
Amidst all these runs, there was some impressive pitching as well, and not just in the obvious places. Yes, Pedro Martinez and Randy Johnson pitched, they were wildly effective and their teams won. But Sunday, Esteban Loaiza threw 7 1/3 shutout innings, adding ten strikeouts for a Game Score of 82--against Cleveland--and came away with nothing. Chuck Finley went the distance, with a Game Score of 84, and watched his Indians avoid being swept on back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the ninth. Sidney Ponson of the Orioles shut out the Twins, and he did it on just 117 pitches, good news for someone who was ridden hard in 1999. The Angels' Scott Schoeneweis had his second straight impressive start, following up his shutout of the Blue Jays by limiting the White Sox to one run on three hits in eight innings.
And yet, with all that great pitching, the game of the weekend was one I'm sure many readers were treated to unexpectedly. With rain wiping out ESPN's scheduled game of Diamondbacks at Giants, the network plugged in the Cardinals/Rockies game, a makeup of a game snowed out on Saturday. 27 runs, 32 hits--11 for extra bases--18 walks, 11 pitchers, seven "crooked numbers" on the scoreboard and a running catch by Larry Walker that kept it from being even worse. The Rockies game back from a four-run deficit in the sixth inning and held on despite a four-run ninth by the Cardinals, who left the bases and, in all likelihood, thousands of Denver residents loaded.
Many people who write about baseball, both in the mainstream press and elsewhere, insist that baseball in Colorado is a problem to be solved, that the altitude requires that something drastic be done, from altering the baseball to building a pressurized dome. I think we should embrace the differences. Baseball is baseball, and if it's different in Denver than it is in Detroit, or if it's different in 2000 than it was in 1988, those are good things. Last night's game was exciting and fun and crazy and wild, just as the game in Cleveland between the Rangers and Indians was tense and taut and thrilling. I have no doubt that anyone new to baseball seeing either game would be a fan by game's end.
From two hours and 41 minutes of a spectacular pitchers' duel during the day to four hours and 19 minutes of a knock-down, drag-out slugfest at night. From what could be the last great achievement of one of the greats of the 20th century to a signature day in the early career of his 21st century counterpart. It was a great weekend for baseball.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.