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October 22, 2006

World Series Prospectus

Diary Time, Game One

by Derek Jacques

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7:34 PM EST: Welcome to the diary--we're starting a bit early. The pregame team of Jeanne Zelasko, Samwise Gamgee, and Kevin Kennedy is at a table set up on the field, so that they have to shout at each other in order to be heard. Zelasko's hair is straight out of the '89 season of Murphy Brown. How did that happen? Did she have some old People magazines lying around?

7:39: Nice taped segment of Ernie Harwell talking about Detroit, and what the World Series means to one of the most economically depressed cities in the Midwest. It's heart-warming to hear Harwell, but it also reminds us that he should probably be in the booth broadcasting the game, rather than having a five-minute spot before the action starts.

7:42: You mean that's not Sean Astin between Kennedy and Zelasko? Eric Byrnes is yelling at the top of his lungs, stuff like "WE'RE IN DETROIT, SO I'M PICKING DETROIT!" which means that I'm already filtering him out. The less said about this, the better.

7:52: Wackiness with both teams' lineups. The Cardinals are passing up Preston Wilson and Scott Spiezio to start So Taguchi against the righthanded fireballer, Justin Verlander. Meanwhile, Ramon Santiago, with all of 86 plate appearances in the regular season, is the starting shortstop for the AL champions. Just as he did in the ALCS, Carlos Guillen moves to first with all of six career starts of experience at the position, while Sean Casey, whose big selling point is supposedly great defense (his 96 career Rate2 suggests otherwise), is the DH. Sure, Santiago brings one more lefthanded bat into the lineup, but it's not a good lefthanded bat (.173 EqA).

8:06: First pitch from Verlander to David Eckstein is a strike. Verlander's tall and lanky, with a smooth delivery and a fastball that creeps toward the triple digits. His first few fastballs to Eckstein aren't up in that range yet.

8:07: Think the Detroit scouting report on DH Chris Duncan says "can't hit the curveball?" Verlander starts Duncan off with three straight curves, beautiful 12-6 drops. This was the opposite of his approach to Eckstein, who was fed fastballs early in the count, and only shown the curve later.

8:14: Anthony Reyes takes the mound after Verlander retired the side in order in the first half of the inning. Reyes has a beefier build than Verlander, and probably a lot less of his manager's confidence. Last time out, in the NLCS, they had Reyes pitching from the stretch even when the bases were empty. Apparently they thought that he was tipping his pitches when he went from the windup. It'll be interesting to see if something similar develops tonight.

8:25: We have a score. Craig Monroe's double is followed by Reyes walking first Ordonez and then Carlos Guillen roping a single on a changeup to put the home team up, 1-0. After watching how quickly Verlander worked the top of the first, Reyes is working in stop-motion. Still, Reyes escapes the inning with the score 1-0.

8:31: The wit and wisdom of Tim McCarver: "It is a relatively new phrase, electric stuff. Filthy is another term. Electric stuff, he [Verlander] is all of the above."

8:33: McCarver and Buck start talking about the need to challenge Scott Rolen with high fastballs, and then Rolen ties the score with a big booming homer on a high fastball. Thanks for the scouting report, guys.

8:49: Carlos Guillen goes to the mound after Verlander goes 2-0 on Chris Duncan, with two out and Yadier Molina at second. Two pitches later, Duncan rips one down the right field line, past Guillen, for a double. I guess Guillen's advice was "make him hit the ball past me."

8:51: Duncan's double scores Molina. So first base is open, right? You give Pujols the base with a man on second and two outs, right? Nope. First pitch homer. That's a very short road to a 4-1 Cardinals lead.

9:03: Is there a third man in the booth with McCarver and Buck tonight? Luis Gonzalez has gone three innings before without uttering a word before, but I'm getting worried, here.

9:07: In the fourth, with Juan Encarnacion on first, we get the inter-manager love-in, with talk about how much Leyland and La Russa talk, and how they respect each other, illustrated with plentiful split-screen action of the two managers pacing around their dugouts. Anything to keep our eyes off the game on the field, right? At least they're not doing the crowd shots…yet.

9:09: Running subplot of the postseason--when will someone stop Ronnie Belliard from doing that disturbing thing with his tongue, where he starts randomly licking the air around his face? The FCC gets all bent out of shape over Janet Jackson's nipple, but this passes muster?

9:17: Between innings, La Russa's defending the Tigers' decision to pitch to Pujols, saying that they had a "deep respect" for Jim Edmonds. Gimme a break. There's deep respect, and then there's getting beat by the one guy on the Cardinals team who you can't give a chance to beat you. Let Rolen beat you, with one good shoulder and a 6-for-36 performance in the postseason so far. Let Edmonds give it a try with his post-concussion syndrome and constant outfield collisions. Just don't give the most dangerous hitter in the National League the chance to hurt you.

9:20: Meanwhile, the Tigers are hacking away early and often. They give Reyes a seven-pitch inning in the fourth. Since throwing 22 pitches in the first inning, Reyes has only had to make 26 pitches in the next three. By comparison, Verlander's working hard at 71 pitches.

9:35: The Tigers get better at-bats in against Reyes in the fifth, but come away with nothing but a pair of strikeouts. I covered one of Reyes's games during the regular season, and he looks completely different in this start. Back then, he was consistently throwing across his body, delivering the ball low three-quarters, and there was a lot of excess movement at the end of his delivery. Now he's throwing cleanly toward the plate, nearly straight overhand. The dirt path they have between home plate and the mound makes an excellent reference to see how much better Reyes has been at delivering the ball straight toward home plate.

9:39: BPer Neil deMause nominates "Who would you say is the most complex character on Saved by the Bell?" for dumbest conversation topic of the World Series. Dumbest conversation topic yet, is all I have to add. I was kind of hoping that Joe Buck would turn the conversation to Screech's porn tape--Bill Simmons' head would have exploded, for certain.

9:41: Pujols, on first with a walk, goes first-to-third on a bad pickoff throw by Verlander. Have to wonder if a more experienced first baseman than Guillen might have been able to control the damage on that throw. A Jim Edmonds single scores Pujols, and Scott Rolen follows with a ground-rule double to send Verlander to the showers.

9:49: With Jason Grilli on the mound, a ball is hit to Inge, who is playing in. Inge throws wide to Ivan Rodriguez, and then collides, in foul territory by the third base coaches' box, with Scott Rolen, who took a wide turn around third. The play continues, with Rolen going home and being tagged out easily. However, obstruction is called on Inge, so Rolen scores.

I get the call, but it's kind of hard to swallow, since Inge was well out of the base path, with his back to the runner, so he couldn't have seen Rolen or expected to be in Rolen's way. I guess the message here is that it's the fielder's job to make sure he stays the heck out of the runner's way, regardless of what one should expect. The only safe place for Inge to stand after that play would be on the infield grass, because then Rolen couldn't run him over without being automatically called out for running inside the base line.

9:59: Weird start by Verlander. He's not a big strikeout guy, but he was able to strike out eight tonight with a good curveball. Still, this is arguably his worst start since he was knocked out in the third inning by the White Sox back in April.

10:03: We get a shot of Luis Gonzalez sitting in the stands, followed by Joe Buck's lamentation that he and McCarver never got a chance to say goodbye to their NLCS broadcast partner. Gee, Buck, none of us feels like we really had a chance to say goodbye to Luis. I thought he might actually still be in the booth with you.

10:13: Pudge Rodriguez barely misses a two-run homer in seventh inning, caught at the back of the warning track. That's the closest that Detroit has come to getting something going since the first inning.

10:20: Again on IM, Neil deMause is having existential angst about the World Series. "You know, it's games like these that make me realize what a sham the World Series is. Nothing that's happened tonight indicates that Anthony Reyes is a better pitcher than Justin Verlander, let alone that the Cardinals are better than the Tigers. It's exciting and all, but you might as well decide the MLB champion on penalty kicks."

I get Neil's point, even though I disagree. The Cardinals are in the World Series thanks largely to receiving two of the best starts of Jeff Suppan's season in the NLCS, and now they're winning game one of the World Series on the back of an outstanding start by Reyes. The whole process isn't indicative of the teams' respective abilities, but absent making the World Series a best-of-162, I don't know what alternative we have to the World Series as it is. I'm also kind of afraid that Neil's crazy talk means Tommy Lasorda's going to be coming for him, with that creepy organist girl.

10:24: So far, Leyland's gotten Grilli, Fernando Rodney, and Wil Ledezma into the game. Given Tigers' long layoff, and the score, it's a good opportunity to get the relievers some game action. I haven't been able to find much data on the effects of long layoffs on relievers. Admittedly, last year it wasn't a big concern for the White Sox, when their starting pitchers decided to turn into complete game machines in the early rounds.

10:31: Reyes gets his own FOX video montage, which I bet is an honor he's been dreaming about since he was just a kid. In that dream, he probably thought that Madonna's Ray of Light would be playing over the montage, since he was in high school when the song was a hit.

10:35: Another pitching change, and Todd Jones is on the mound for the Tigers. By now my wife, a Detroit native, is just begging for this game to be over, so they can start over tomorrow.

10:38: Beautiful diving play by Neifi Perez, catching a grounder up the middle from Eckstein. If you count Omar Infante, the Tigers have four guys who can play short on the roster, but no place for Chris Shelton, who started 100 games for them at first during the season, and their main left-handed bat off the bench is Alexis Gomez, who posted a jaunty .245 EqA for the season.

10:46: With only 89 pitches on his odometer, Reyes comes out to start the ninth, against the one player who hit him hard this game, Craig Monroe. Monroe blasts the first pitch he sees, up and over the left field fence to cut the St. Louis lead to 7-2. And now Tony La Russa comes out to take Reyes out of the game. This makes sense for nobody other than FOX, who get to show another bunch of ads before the end of the game.

10:55: Now we get the patented FOX "let's show the face of every person in the ballpark." I keep expecting Cardinals reliever Braden Looper to yell at the camera "Hey, I'm working, here!"

11:01: Game over, as Ivan Rodriguez makes the last out while ex-catcher Tim McCarver is trying to talk up Pudge's Hall of Fame chances based on his "leadership…and mental prowess." Yeah, the hitting and throwing and all that other stuff is just superfluous.

11:07: Now we're in the postgame, which the studio trio have decided to do on the field, standing up. I think Byrnes insisted they not be sitting down, so that he could finally prove to the world that he is, indeed, taller than Jeanne Zelasko.

11:09: Kevin Kennedy likes the Tigers sending Kenny Rogers to the mound in Game Two, "because if you're up, you can go up 2-0, if you're down, you can tie it up." Huh? I think it's time to call it a night now. Hope you enjoyed the diary, and enjoy the World Series.

Derek Jacques is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus. You can reach Derek by clicking here or click here to see Derek's other articles.

Derek Jacques is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Derek's other articles. You can contact Derek by clicking here

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