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October 27, 2006

World Series Prospectus

Game Four Diary

by Christina Kahrl

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Hi gang, it's my turn at bat for the Game Four diary. I've got a glass of red, the little black dog is curled up and sleeping off our squirrel-chasing two-a-days, and I'm curious to see if Bonderman's going to overpower a weak Cardinal lineup-Joe Morgan's pre-game comments be damned-or if Jeff Suppan rises to the occasion yet again. Or both. I've got nothing in the way of a rooting interest. Riding along, I've got a host of BP colleagues on AIM to keep me company and kibbitz about the evening's events.

8:00 PM: It's the pre-game show, and... do we have a game or no? Me, I wonder if all this Taco Bell talk didn't inspire my decision to cook buffalo-meat tacos-as a former Taco Bell employee, you won't catch me dead in one of the thousands of Casa de Greasepits you'll find hawking its loathsome refried wares on a streetcorner near you.

So, Ms. Zelasko's so impressed with herself, and it's her birthday, and we're given Joe Girardi, who... gets talked over by Kevin Kennedy. Joltless Joe may not be domineering enough to match up with these two puffed-up studio personalities, which is a pity, both because he's the person who has actually worked in baseball within the last ten years, and since he's basically stuck in the booth now that the Snugglies have decided to go with yet another ex-famous person for their manager.

8:07: Sheesh, all this talk of the critical importance of catcher defense... you'd think Ernie Lombardi had lost a World Series that Kennedy, Girardi, and Zelasko all watched. Kennedy and Girardi are in the clear, but does this mean that Zelasko is a testament to the miracles of modern plastic surgery? If she's in the AARP, it might explain her tendency to talk over her fellow performers.

8:12: Kennedy's pointing out Jeremy Bonderman's sort of good-a relief, since Joe Morgan was slamming him in the previous hour over on ESPN.

8:14: Men's Rogaine Foam is being advertised. An amazing modern convenience! Paging Will Carroll...

8:17: Ozzie's son-the real Ozzie, not the Ozzeroo-is singing the national anthem. He's not all bad coming from the Dwight Smith school of national anthemry, but if there was any need to further demonstrate Detroit's total dominance as far as its potential pool of golden throats from which to draw, it just got another bit of reinforcement. Better this than a country singer taking a break from singing about beer and trucks and honkytonk gals, certainly.

8:22: So I'm reviewing the lineups, and... gods above and below, what's Preston Wilson doing in the lineup, and batting sixth? As Steven Goldman notes via AIM:

Steve: Wilson isn't useful against strong righties or experienced European diplomats.
Christina: Preston has an ethereal faith in his capacity to hit righthanders. It's one of his ten points, and as believable as any of Woodrow's.

As if the Cardinals offense wasn't already a short-fused setup, I'm concerned that reducing it to basically what you're hoping to get out of Duncan-Pujols-Edmonds-Rolen in the second through fifth slots is prettyy ugly. I admit, outfield defense might be a question with Edmonds still trying to get himself right, and with Duncan stumbling around in one corner, but Bonderman has real problems with lefties, and I wouldn't mind seeing John Rodriguez get a spot start. However, to respond to the obvious platoon issues, La Russa has given Aaron Miles a spot start at second, which certainly makes sense, as well as sparing us the now-infamous Belliard tongue-loll.

As for los Tigres, Jim Leyland's delivered a lineup spanking to his charges, dropping Pudge Rodriguez and Placido Polanco in the order, and sensibly promoting Carlos Guillen to the #3 hole. Sean Casey hitting fifth isn't especially good news, especially with the odds of his waddling on the bases in front of Pudge, and the promise of an inning-killing deuce.

8:30: Suppan throws the first pitch, ball one low to the still-cold Granderson. The rookie jumps on the second pitch, but lines weakly to Eckstein. So much for taking a break from the Deadball Era re-enactments. Monroe goes all of two pitches as well, and... what, does this game have to be played like a get-away day? Suppan then greases Guillen on three pitches, leaving me suitably impressed.

8:35: Bonderman pumps in a 95 mph strike to get his half of the first underway. Eckstein gets his bat around in time to re-channel some of Bonderman's power into a foul near-homer in the sixth pitch of the at-bat. Bonderman's working fast, but on the ninth pitch, Eckstein hits an old-school "butcher boy" tapper in front of third that Inge can't come in for in time, so it's good for a base hit. Sadly, Duncan belts into a second-pitch double-play to keep Pujols from hitting with anyone aboard. Bonderman overpowers Albert the Great on three pitches, and all of Eckstein's hard work winds up being irrelevant.

8:42: Subjected to advertising, I can't help but wonder, is it just me, or is there something seriously weak about Jay-Z being driven while some woman drives herself along the same curvy route? Is there a woman alive who'd be impressed by a man in pajamas who can't drive his own sportscar? I mean, besides Anna Nicole Smith...

8:46: Sean Casey golfs a homer to right that seems to take forever to get over the fence. Steve wonders if that's going to get Casey a new contract; me, I hope the Tigers have the same sense that the Mets did after the 1986 World Series with Ray Knight, and settle for giving the guy a thank-you note and a fruit basket.

Pudge follows up with an inside-out single to right, and brazenly takes advantage of Edmonds' strangeways sensibilities on Polanco's flyout to the right-center gap, easily getting into second ahead of Edmonds' sloppy throw back into the infield. Our own Keith Woolner quickly notes that this is not your everyday event. From the last ten years, here are all of the catchers who have tagged up from first on flyballs to center:

GAMEDATE  BAT PIT INN OUT BASERUNNER        CF
--------- --- --- --- --- ----------------  -----------------
10-JUN-06 BAL MIN   9   1 Ramon Hernandez   Torii Hunter
08-JUN-06 DET CHA   6   1 Ivan Rodriguez    Rob Mackowiak
08-JUN-06 MIN SEA   5   0 Mike Redmond      Willie Bloomquist
29-APR-06 MIL CHN   2   0 Damian Miller     Juan Pierre
23-JUN-04 CLE CHA   4   0 Victor Martinez   Aaron Rowand
01-MAY-02 MON HOU   5   0 Michael Barrett   Lance Berkman
25-JUN-01 LAN SFN   2   0 Chad Kreuter      Calvin Murray
27-MAY-00 TEX MIN   3   0 Ivan Rodriguez    Jacque Jones
31-AUG-99 SLN FLO   2   1 Alberto Castillo  Preston Wilson
13-AUG-99 ANA DET   5   0 Matt Walbeck      Juan Encarnacion
02-JUN-99 CHN SDN   3   0 Benito Santiago   Ruben Rivera
06-APR-99 TEX DET   3   0 Ivan Rodriguez    Gabe Kapler
12-JUL-98 NYA TBA   2   0 Jorge Posada      Randy Winn
14-JUN-98 NYN FLO   8   1 Alberto Castillo  Todd Dunwoody
06-AUG-97 TEX NYA   6   0 Ivan Rodriguez    Bernie Williams
25-JUL-97 TEX CHA   5   0 Ivan Rodriguez    Mike Cameron
13-JUN-97 PIT KCA   3   0 Jason Kendall     Tom Goodwin
30-MAY-97 NYN PHI   6   0 Todd Hundley      Ruben Amaro
30-APR-97 NYA SEA   3   0 Joe Girardi       Ken Griffey Jr.

This year's "explosion" of frequency-four times!-involves two infielders playing center and a rag-armed Pierre, but overall, most of the guys on the list were people who could play center. What's really interesting is the number of times Pudge has been the basenapper in this scenario, as he's done it five times in the last ten. Alberto Castillo's the only guy whose name shows up more than once, so give Pudge his props-he's on his toes on the bases.

This turn of events "forces" Tony La Russa to walk Brandon Inge with two outs and first base open, but I don't disagree with the idea-the one thing this Tigers lineup has going for it is that it doesn't have a specific weak point now that Ramon Santiago is safely buried on the bench. Everybody has a wee bit of power, and none of the eight hitters are the sorts who get their bats knocked out of their hands. Suitably insulted, Bonderman takes a few good cuts, fouls off a few pitches, actually cranks out a seven-pitch at-bat, and even cheats Suppan of the strikeout. The gambit's a win-win-the Tigers have to feel good getting to lead off with the top of their order in the third, and the Cardinals can feel nice about giving up only a run.

8:58: Edmonds steps in, and Bonderman's going right after him. He does the same with Rolen, and just misses on a 2-2 pitch "outside," then battles Rolen through three foul balls, then gets flies him out to Monroe just short of the fence. If the shoulder's supposed to be a problem, it looks like Rolen was able to get the bat around pretty well on that stroke. Preston Wilson takes six pitches to wind up with a tapper to the mound-Bonderman isn't putting people away quickly, but he also doesn't seem to be having all that much trouble.

9:12: Fox seems to be doing much better about catching the first pitch of the inning. Will Suppan get through the inning as quickly? Will Granderson do a better job of working the count? He does this time around, taking a couple of pitches before pulling a ball past Pujols that curves into the right field corner for an easy double. Cardinal outfield defense isn't an asset, so we'll see if this only makes things more interesting. Monroe also takes a trio of balls before Suppan slips in a weak strike , then getting Monroe to tap to third on a changeup.

This brings on an always-lamentable Fox Scooter segue, with the CGI sprite pedantically observing that a changeup is a slow pitch. I'm perplexed-if the network is going to spend millions on this sort of thing, what is it that Tim McCarver is for again? If we can get our pedantry from lifeless imaginary beings, I know I'd imagine something more interesting than Scooter or McCarver. Derek Jacques wonders if hoping that Scooter says something about Lou Piniella and his wallet is so terribly wrong.

Suppan walks Guillen, and suddenly, we're in a situation where things could get very ugly very fast, because Suppan doesn't look sharp, and two men on and one out isn't a great spot to be in. Unfortunately for the Tigers, Magglio Ordonez gets out in front of Suppan's first pitch, and golfs a lazy fly to left. However, subsequently Casey makes his bid for player of the game by jumping on some offspeed junk to rip a single that easily scores Granderson and threatens to bring Guillen around until third base coach Gene Lamont holds him up. While I'm fondly remembering Lamont's days as a manager-he loves the squeeze play, and did pretty good work with the White Sox back in the day-Fox leaps to the opportunity to show us Tony La Russa's response to this second Tiger run, which was... a curled lip and a shrug, if even that much. After a hundred games or so watched this season, and thousands in my lifetime, I don't think I've seen any manager do anything when the "manager cam" cuts to him after a big play, and I don't think I've seen anybody lose it yet. Memo to Fox producers: these things just don't happen. As Steve notes: "I keep thinking, 'Billy Martin is dead. Earl Weaver is retired. Give up.' If you've watched Joe Torre for a long time, you've probably become adept at distinguishing the different shades of grey pallor that indicate pleasure, disappointment, anger, etc. It's very subtle. He becomes a half-shade more or less grey." La Russa's impassiveness is part of his legend, but apparently nobody at Fox got the memo.

Suppan tries to go outside on Pudge, but Rodriguez shows what you can do when you're willing to settle for what you can do with a pitch instead of waiting for your pitch, and dumps a single to right to score Guillen. These aren't the A's, so the now-kryptonited Polanco bops into a forceout to end the inning. Still, Steve wonders if, in this Series, a two-run rally is the equivalent of Connie Mack's ten-run inning. (In 1929, if you're curious.) Except that this Series won't have anyone as neatly named as Mule Haas delivering the punishment.

9:32, and I'm going to have to recognize that I'm really bad at noting the time. Miles singles, and La Russa takes a risk I like, running with Miles with Suppan at the plate. Suppan makes good contact for a pitcher, and the Foxies are sagely noting that this was a broken hit-and-run, all the believable when you note that Suppan has struck out in only 11 of his 70 plate appearances this year, and in only 17.6% of his career PAs. The man may not provide that rare homer like Dontrelle Willis, but he can obviously handle a bat.

Unfazed by Miles' arrival at second, Bonderman dispenses with Suppan, putting Eckstein on the spot with two outs. Eckstein jumps on the first pitch, which though low and a little on the outside corner, he fists into left, easily scoring Miles to put the Redbirds on the board. Monroe was pulled way over to the line, strangely, so Eckstein makes it to second while Miles scores.

Duncan coming up with two outs and a man on is actually pretty cool, highlighting the virtue of getting him up in exactly this sort of situation. La Russa famously used Carlton Fisk in the #2 hole with the White Sox, and later Dave Henderson with the A's, and it's a nice bit of lineup design because it potentially gives you game-breaking power in a position where most teams are hoping for a scratch single. Bonderman loses Duncan to a walk, creating a perfect situation for the Cards-Pujols with a shot at generating a lead. Unhappily, Pujols looks no better against Bonderman the second time around, though, as he taps to third to end the inning.

9:45: Suppan's got the bottom of the order up, and he gets Inge, so it's already looking like an easy inning. This frees up the Fox crew to check in with Ken Rosenthal down in the pit, who notes that Andy Van Slyke wants the Tigers to be even more aggressive at the plate. This is sort of like asking Famous Amos if he likes hot dogs-Van Slyke's a quote whore, which makes for great publicity for Andy Van Slyke, and not a lot else of interest. Anyone else remember Van Slyke's going after Ozzie Guillen earlier this summer? I suspect he's more the club's braggadoccio coach. Meanwhile, Suppan strikes out Bonderman and Granderson, so we're at 3-1 Tigers going into the fourth.

9:55: Kid Buck asks La Russa about who's pitching tomorrow night-and it'll be Jeff Weaver. Just as they cut back to the actual ballgame, Rolen rips another pitch to left, just over the infield, and aggressively motors into second. Wilson helpfully grounds to the right side on the second pitch, putting Rolen on third with two outs, but Yadier Molina rips a double down the line past Inge's non-Nettles (or non-Brooksie) dive, scoring Rolen and perhaps clinching his Borders-like opportunity to last forever, or as long as somebody remembers this postseason. To be fair to Molina, he's only 24, has some pop as well as brilliant defensive skill, and he's already got more than two seasons as a regular under his belt. If he's this generation's Bob Boone, that's a pretty useful ballplayer. Anyway, reduced to a one-run lead, Leyland responds gambit for gambit, walking Miles to get Suppan, and escapes the inning.

10:06: Monroe hits into a first-pitch out, but Guillen rips a single, at which point La Russa gets his pen up. Now that Suppan's spot is furthest from coming up in the bottom of the fourth, you might expect to see a middle reliever, but there's already nattering about getting Tyler Johnson in to face Sean Casey-which is a bit of overkill tactically. But for all the booth talk, with two outs Casey bats with Guillen on first, it's Suppan on the mound, and Casey drops a ticky-tack bloop single into center in the sward just behind short; Guillen motors into third, as the Tigers don't seem concerned about Edmonds' former greatness. La Russa takes a "chance," and lets Suppan face Pudge, but he gets out of it when Rodriguez delivers a quick 5-4 forceout.

10:17: The Cardinals have the top of their order up in the bottom of the fifth, so this is a big opportunity for them, but Eckstein and Duncan both make quick outs, creating an obvious suggestion as far as the double-switch should Suppan get in trouble in the top of the sixth-Duncan's glovework is expendable, and the Cards still do have both Scott Spiezio and John Rodriguez on the bench that they could switch into the ninth slot. Making things interesting, instead of retiring him again, Bonderman gets Pujols out of the way by putting him on first, and then keeps busting Edmonds inside until he strikes him out. Edmonds just is not the same player, and while we can all be sympathetic to his plight, he's not an asset tonight.

10:26: La Russa's made a gutty but defensible choice, leaving Suppan in to face the bottom of the order in the sixth. It's worth seeing if he can get past the bottom of the order, and if either of the batters ahead of Bonderman get on base, it's a nice way to make Leyland think about pinch-hitting. Inge gets a one-out single, and Bonderman stays in to lay it down, giving Granderson a shot with a man in scoring position. Suppan rises to the occasion by giving Granderson absolutely nothing that isn't low and outside, and Granderson proves he never gotten Ted Williams' advice to lay off of that sort of thing, finally going fishing to deliver a tapper to first. Credit La Russa for not overmanaging, and leaving his starter along; Suppan's delivered a quality start, and the Cards are only down a run.

10:36: A tough situation-if Bonderman gets Rolen, the odds of the Cardinals scoring seem pretty small, but highlighting the extent to which his shoulder seems fine, Rolen pulls yet another pitch to left, again getting a double, and we've probably seen our last of Soop-if another Cardinals gets on base, odds are the pitcher's slot will come up with ducks on the pond. La Russa decides to over-manage on offense if not with his pitchers, having Wilson bunt Rolen over to third, and putting any shot at getting a crooked number up on the scoreboard at risk. Bonderman misses inside and out on Molina on four pitches, producing first-and-third, and it clearly wasn't a matter of trying to set up a double-play-he's out of the game, apparently to his surprise, and Leyland's choice is to go to his better pen men and bring Fernando Rodney in.

Rodney's delivery and combination-great heat, and a changeup he spots well low and away-has me remembering Juan Berenguer fondly, but that's probably my writing about 1987 recently. But where Berenguer was an overstuffed plantain who prefigured El Guapo by a good decade, Rodney's merely a guy with an ill-tended beard. The nice thing for the Tigers is that Rodney's really the kill-shot reliever to use here, allowing them to go to Zumaya with a clean inning later on, and perhaps use Jamie Walker in a situational spot against Edmonds (probably next inning), and then turn to Todd Jones for the blown save. Just kidding... Anyway, Rodney shows us that firemen don't only show up in the ninth, fooling Miles badly, and then making pinch-hitter John Rodriguez look bad. As Kevin Goldstein notes, "that's some relievin'!"

10:55: So, here's the Tigers shot to try to add that run that might make some ninth-inning Jones hijinks a little more survivable, and they're up against Josh Kinney as a result of the decision to pinch-hit for Suppan. Monroe lines out to a diving Preston Wilson, reminding us that Wilson might be the best fielder at his outfield position (left) the Cards have right now, and eliciting this exchange from Steve and I:

Steve: Wow! Freedom of the seas! (Score one for Wilson)
Christina: Blah, let's offer Mexico his kids.
Steve: The Preston Wilson Telegram?
Christina: "We'll offer you New Mexico and three Wilsons to be named later for one very large distraction."-Kaiser Frank Lane

(Forgive us, we're both given to weak geek history humor. It's better than taking up golf, believe me.) At any rate, Guillen walks, Yadier Molina tries to pick him off of first, and on the very next pitch, Guillen swipes second. That's not that rare-Keith Woolner quickly informs me that it happened more than 500 times this season alone. Not all of them with Molina behind the plate, of course. Kinney strikes out Maggs, and makes way for Tyler Johnson, who gets Casey on a towering fly to right. The Cards pen might not be as good as the Tigers, but after one frame, it's given the lineup a shot to make up that one run.

11:05: Red Schoendienst's daughter singing "God Bless America"? Okay, the Ozzie Smith's kid thing was one thing, but this just makes me think St. Louis and Memphis have their affiliations backwards, because this is just bush. "Howdy folks, it's Kids of Famous Cardinals Night at the ballpark. Next up, we'll watch Joe Buck drink from the fire hose!" Spare me. Steve wonders if this means Ducky Medwick's third cousin will throw out the first pitch in Game Five.

So Eckstein steps in against Rodney, and lofts a fly ball to center that it looks like Granderson can snag... except Granderson slips on the soggy grass, and the ball drops in for a "double." To his credit, Granderson stayed with it, and got the ball in to keep Eckstein at second. Things go from bad to worse, as pinch-hitter (Me) So Taguchi, brought in for small ball tactics in Duncan's spot, plinks a bunt back to Rodney, which Rodney responds to with a Matt Young special, firing the ball over Sean Casey and foul down the right field line, scoring Eckstein, tying the game, and putting Taguchi on second. This gives Tigers pitchers the most errors (by pitchers) in World Series history, and considering that goes back to the Deadball Era, that's really saying something. Leyland responds by intentionally walking Pujols, as the Tigers once again make it plain they're more than happy to take their chances with Edmonds. Rodney fools Edmonds badly on a changeup, putting the burden of doing some great game-breaking deed on Rolen's shoulders. Rodney works Rolen low, low, up and in, low, and gets him to swing through strike three.

That puts Preston Wilson on the spot, and I guess the problem here is that, with the game tied, he has to hit, because pulling him puts the Cardinals' outfield defense in a bad way. Wilson surprises everyone with a single to left that sets up what might be a close play at the plate-except that Inge cuts it off and tags the trail runner, Pujols. It's an out, but Taguchi scored on the play, giving the Cards the lead, 4-3. Granderson's the only guy whose gaffe is something you really can't put on him-Rodney should have made his play, and Inge made a tough choice that gave the Cardinals the lead, but ended the inning.

11:29: The Tigers now have to answer the pair of runs scored against Braden Looper, and Pudge rips a 1-1 pitch for a double, making things immediately interesting. Polanco and Inge both have the power to score him from second, but there's the usual booth babbling about bunting him over, but Polanco gets baited into an easy grounder to second, which conveniently moved Rodriguez onto third. Will Lamont get a shot at relaying a squeeze play to Inge?

11:37: La Russa pulls Looper, and brings in Adam Wainwright, rightly supposing there's no time like the present to try and win the game right here in the eighth. Unfortunately, the first pitch is a fastball that catches too much plate, and Inge mashes it into the right-center gap just short of the fence for a run-scoring double. It's the last mistake Wainwright will make, as he fools pinch-hitter Alexis Gomez and gets a called strikes three against Granderson to strand Inge and keep the game tied.

11:46: Time to Zum, Zum, Zum away... forgive me, morning television in the '70s was no doubt a very bad thing for young and impressionable minds. Zumaya quickly walks Yadier Molina, something you might normally consider as only slightly more possible than an Ozzie Smith homer off of Tom Niedenfuer. This merely presages a lot of Zumaya wildness, as he opens up 2-0 on Aaron Miles before recovering to induce a fielder's choice that erases Molina. Pinch-hitter Juan Encarnacion strikes out, but Pudge dropped strike three, allowing Miles to slip into second. Eckstein works the count up to 3-1 before powering another flyball to left that has me wonder again where Monroe's playing-he takes a bad route to the ball, it goes off of his glove, and Granderson ends up having to field the double that gives the Cards a 5-4 lead. Taguchi pops foul to end the inning, but suddenly, we're looking at a do-or-die situation for the Tigers.

11:59: Wainwright makes Monroe look really, really bad. He gets ahead of Guillen 0-2, but Guillen gets it back up to 2-2 before grounding out to Pujols... won't we get any drama? No, we won't. Maggs wants to go home, and promptly grounds to Eckstein to make this Series really ugly for the Motor City Kitties.

For the Cardinals, should they win, I'm guessing this would be karmic revenge for 1985, and certainly the fans who follow them in the best baseball town in the country deserve that for their troubles. We'll have to see if the Series makes it back to Detroit, and whether or not Tiger fans (and even Yankee and Angel fans) will have to live with the additional indignity of seeing Jeff Weaver as the instrument of their destruction.

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

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