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October 28, 2006

World Series Prospectus

Game Five Diary

by Steven Goldman

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Good evening, friends. It's my turn to take the diary wheel as we watch what will very possibly be the last major league game of 2006. Let's dedicate this one to Joe Niekro, who passed away today at the age of 61. I was at his penultimate Yankees start in 1987, and though it wasn't a successful outing (Joe gave up home runs to Terry Steinbach and Mike Davis in bowing to Joaquin Andujar and the A's) I have always remembered that game fondly.

8:00: I'd like to leave out the now-traditional Zelasko-bashing, but her hair is hypnotic. She looks like Jack Kirby's Medusa. You know, from the old Fantastic Four comic books.

8:05: Young BP Techmaster Ben Murphy is asking me if there's going to be a game. What the hell is he asking me for? I'm in New Jersey.

8:15: Johnny Cash song over montage, immediately followed by John Mellencamp commercial. Mellencamp instantly exposed as a poseur.

8:16: Awright already: I'll take my daughter to the damnable penguin movie. I surrender. Also, as a fat guy who undergoes regular MRIs, I'd really like to know what's up with the incredibly obese person that House is trying to wedge into a scanner.

8:18: National anthem time. Not the 48th Am-Idol wannabe, but Billy Ray Cyrus. I wouldn't know him from Alvin the Chipmunk, but apparently he's been co-opted by the Disney Channel (I get it-the show stars his daughter). Christina Kahrl says it must be Halloween because Cyrus is back from the (musical) grave. Ben Murphy says after this series he hates country music. I tell him to give Johnny Cash a try. Most of the time he didn't sound like a country artist, he sounded like himself. He was his own category.

8:23: I haven't had dinner yet. I begin to wonder how I'm going to do this and work it in at the same time. And what is it? And who will prepare it for me? My life is hard.

8:24: I tried reading the first in the series of novels on which "Bones" is based. They were reputed to be more literate than your typical forensic mystery. Wrong. We've fired better writers from BP for gross malpractice with the English language. I might try to get back to it one day when I think I can stomach phrases like (I paraphrase), "It was a beautiful summer day… but it would soon give way to the chilling terror of Autumn."

By the way, I've been here half an hour and the game still hasn't started.

8:25: Christina wonders why Ronnie Belliard is batting sixth--maybe he has good numbers against Jeff Weaver. I reply that Tony LaRussa made a weighty decision. "Plus Taguchi in the lineup," Christina adds. "I suppose the opportunity here is for all sorts of lineup juggling, swapping in Spiezio, Miles, Wilson, or Encarnacion in the 2nd, 6th, 8th, and 9th slots." I'm glad she's taking this seriously. Someone should. I don't think LaRussa has been that aggressive so far, but with Jeff the Glove Biter starting he might have to do some shuffling. Chris agrees, but notes that La Russa knows he has to get Chris Duncan off the field after three at bats. I believe she referred to him yesterday as "Kingman-eque," and that's about right.

8:27: Joe Buck alludes to "a couple of guys with sore shoulders" and I immediately think he's about to start talking about Kerry Wood and Mark Prior.

8:30: No changes to the Tigers lineup. I miss Marcus Thames. He homered off of Randy Johnson in his first major league at bat, something which apparently broke Randy's spirit. So Taguchi takes over for Preston Woodrow Wilson in left. Wilson actually made some good plays out there last night.

8:31: First pitch. Weaver hasn't fallen apart yet. Forgive me, dear readers-I had to watch this guy pretend to pitch for the Yankees for a year and a half.

8:32: Weaver's ahead of Curtis Granderson 1-2. Granderson used to be the only Tiger who would take a walk. He seems to have learned to be more like his teammates. Too bad. If he was a Yankee or an A he'd have walked 20 more times. Instead, next year he'll cut his walks by 20... And a swing and a miss for strike three.

8:34: With the orange trim, the Tigers look like Toys 'R' Us employees.

8:35: Have YOU ever seen a Toys 'R' Us employee hit a game-winning home run?

8:35:30: Fox Crotchcam makes its first appearance. Craig Monroe swings and misses for strike three. This must be what it felt like to watch Sandy Koufax in Game 1, 1963, especially if Koufax were blonde, right-handed, and not all that good.

8:36: The Tigers go one, two, three. There's a Billy Wilder/Jimmy Cagney movie by that title, a cold war comedy about a Coca-Cola exec. I've never seen it. Maybe I'll watch it tomorrow, assuming the Cards win tonight. Weaver looked good, but it helps to have the Tigers hitting against you. This was a year of great parity in baseball. We have the best two teams in this Series, but they're also the worst two teams.

8:39: Justin Verlander's post-season ERA is 7.47. As Bill James once observed, it's never good when you have the ERA of an airliner. No truth to the rumor that Walt Disney's original "Snow White" lineup included, Sleepy, Happy, Bashful, Dopey, and Eckstein.

8:42: Duncan walks on 3-2. Verlander bounces a fastball to Pujols and Duncan goes to second. With the errors and wild pitches, the Tigers have given away more bases and outs than any Series since the deadball era, when the fielders wore live cats on their hands instead of mitts.

8:44: Verlander bounces another one. Pudge-Rod makes a great save with his groin. Pujols walks on yet another bouncer outside. Verlander isn't going to be here long. Great shot of a twitchy Verlander in the dugout between innings.

8:46: One of the best things Casey Stengel said was about Mike Marshall: "They say he's educated and he throws strikes. But what if you're educated and you don't throw strikes. Then they don't leave you in too long." That's a rough paraphrase. Substitute "got good stuff" for "educated" and you have an approximation of what's happening now.

8:47: Will Carroll says, "Tim McCarver talking about pitching tells me that Gibson was right--all he knows is it's hard to hit." I seem to have more patience for McCarver than anyone I know. Chris notes that it's looking like a Joaquin Andujar kind of evening. John Erhardt observes, "Clinching game of the World Series and you've got Jason Grilli warming up in the first inning? If I weren't sort of drunk right now, this is the kind of thing I'd get indignant about."

8:49: 3-2 on Jim Edmonds and he chases one out of the zone, flying out to Craig Monroe, who manages to look scary again. I think he was positioned to defend Lefty O'Doul when Eckstein had his big hit yesterday.

8:50: Second wild pitch of the game. Moments earlier, Will had observed that Verlander is pitching up hill and predicted that pitching coach Chuck Hernandez would fix him if he can just get out of the first.

8:52: As the bases are walked loaded Erhardt wonders if Verlander has gone Rick Ankiel on us. Man, that's a depressing thought. As a historian, I wonder if he's going Bill Bevins on us. And are the bases as drunk as Erhardt claims to be?

8:53: I think Stengel would have pinch-hit for Belliard with Johnny Mize about now, with bases loaded in the first inning. Alas. Verlander overthrows a 100 MPH fastball high and inside. 2-2.

8:54: Ball three. 3-2. The runners are free to go. Foul ball.

8:55 Grounder to Carlos Guillen, and a close play at first. If Belliard wasn't morbidly obese, he might have beaten it out.

8:58: Weaver sat for over 20 minutes, but he strikes out Ordonez to open the frame. It's hard to believe that after all the drama of the first inning, it's still a 0-0 game.

9:15: A hard crash takes me off the board for several minutes. Summarizing: Weaver was still great, Verlander struggled some more. Brandon Inge helped him out... then he didn't. 1-0 Cardinals. Picking up in the top of the third...

9:17: Inge doubles, the eternal quest for redemption. In 1925, Roger Peckinpaugh made his seventh error of the Series in Game 7, allowing the Pirates to tie the game, then homered in his next at bat to make up for his mistake... then, of course, he made an eighth error that set up the winning rally for the Buccos. Oh well.

9:18: Inge tries to cross from second to third on a ball to the shortstop. Out. Redemption dies a soft death.

9:22: Inning over. The Tigers strand everyone, including Heinie Manush.

9:26 Pujols comes alive (with a single)! How many chances will the Cards give the Tigers to wriggle off the hook? One of these teams can't hit and one of these teams won't hit, but it's not always clear which is which.

9:28: Sign in the stands: "The experts are idiots." Strangely, McCarver and Buck agree. Pujols is caught off first as Edmonds strikes out. Rally dead. Scott Rolen pops out moments later. The Tigers escape again.

9:32: Commercial. I read somewhere that cheese is one of the leading causes of clogged arteries in Americans. In an early telling of the story, Noah's Ark was not made of wood, but human bone.

9:36: Magglio Ordonez pops a can o' corn to Duncan. Edmonds crowds in, and Duncan drops it. Ordonez is now on second with one out. Credit Christina-she called that one. Ben Murphy says, "Don't be surprised to see a sub for Duncan cause he just got cut from the team." Nah-he's the pitching coach's son.

9:37: Yesterday I told Christina that I wasn't prepared for "Sean Casey, World Series MVP." With his second home run, I might have to accommodate myself to the idea. As for the home run, that's the Jeff Weaver I'm used to.

9:45: I am momentarily distracted from the game as my wife and I discuss a friend's prostate problems.

9:47: Inge no doubt experiences violent deja vu as he's again diving for a throw from the pitcher. Tie game. I once saw a 45-year-old Tommy John make three errors on the same play. This World Series is like watching that play stretched out over a week... I think we shall call this one, "Verlander's Boner."

9:49: Great stop by Guillen on Eckstein's hard grounder, but he had a shot at both Taguchi coming home and Weaver crossing in front of him and going to third. He took the safe out at first, and the way this Series is going for the Tigers maybe that was the right call.

9:51: Duncan pops up as McCarver advises that he be removed for defense after this at bat. Poor defense has been the key element of this Series, followed by impatience at the plate. Over at YES today I tried to come up with a list of other World Series were defense was as important a determinant.

9:52: Chris Kahrl: "Those fairy tales involving how inspirational Kenny Rogers was? Pernicious nonsense."

9:55: Strikeout #5 for Weaver. The Tigers should be embarrassed. And they should genuflect in the direction of Dave Duncan. He just passed Leo Mazzone in the pitching coach-generated miracle rankings.

9:56: Christina dislikes the soul patch fetish that has overtaken the Cards. Note that if Weaver was still a Yankee, the rules would forbid him from growing that ugly thing. Of course, if he were still a Yankee he'd be home drinking a beer right now. With A-Rod.

9:58: Four and a half innings in the book. We're halfway to the baseball season being over. Conflicted feelings: I'm not ready for the end of the season, but I'm desperately eager for the end of this Series.

10:01: The weather has been less of a factor than anticipated; I'm quite comfortable.

10:02: Keith Woolner and I briefly discuss where this Series ranks historically among the famously bad defensive performances of yore. The whole Tigers team is doing a Roger Peckinpaugh '25.

10:04: Pujols strikes out and flips his bat. The gesture seems to have been more emphatic than he intended. The umpire wisely decides not to start a beef with the best player on either team (no matter how poorly he's played in this Series) and destroy the integrity of the game. Nice play by Polanco on Edmonds' grounder. As long as it's not to a pitcher or an outfielder, the Tigers can do this defense thing.

10:11: Casey lines a ball to deep right. Duncan leaps-clank. Hometown scoring (or some other pernicious influence) changes the play from an E-9 to a double. I thought Casey had hit another out for a moment. This is far worse. Now Chris Kahrl and Tim McCarver have first-guessed LaRussa on subbing for Duncan. "He's not all thumbs," observes Chris, "he's thumbless." I'll add that his bat will regress next year and that will be that. He was probably the player who most exceeded his abilities this year, and while he played a key role in getting the Cards to where they are, they shouldn't be so appreciative that they bank on a big season from him next year. He's the new Bob Hazle.

10:20: Miked in the dugout, Mark Mulder discusses pitcher errors. So does Keith Woolner: "Most pitcher errors in 5 consecutive games in 2006-four, by the D'Backs, starting Sept. 12. Most pitcher errors in a 5 game span since 1960 is six, accomplished four times (although two streaks by Texas in 1992 overlap):

Date       Team   Gamenum   P_ERR
---------------------------------
06-AUG-74   MON     107       6
23-MAY-90   MIL      37       6
27-SEP-92   TEX     156       6
29-SEP-92   TEX     157       6
Thank goodness 198-time Gold Glover Jim Kaat isn't in there. I'd have been disillusioned. Ben says, "I was taught, as a catcher, to yell 'step and throw' at pitchers because they have the tendency to botch the infield throws."

10:25: Energy flagging, I finally work in dinner. Also, you need a strong bladder for this job. Nuff said.

10:26: Duncan is finally out of the game. Weaver is still in. And Verlander too. How unlikely did that seem two hours ago? And a spectacular 3-1 play by Pujols and Weaver to keep Placido Polanco hitless. Good call by the umps too. You can toss a coin on the outcomes of those close first base plays.

10:28: I am repulsed by all of Weaver's favorite things. John Erhardt: "If Jeff Weaver's favorite show is 'Silver Spoons,' he's my new favorite pitcher." Logically, I think I must now be repulsed by John Erhardt. I'm really going to have to stop mocking Jeff Weaver, though. Well... whatever happens here, those Yankees years, and Game 4 of the 2003 World Series, will live forever... Though that last wasn't so much his fault as Joe Torre's.

10:35: Verlander is finally out of the game, yielding to Caesar Rodney of Delaware. I love that they put him on the state quarter. You'd have to say that all things considered, Verlander's performance was quite creditable. The defensive problems not withstanding. Or is that the whole point?

10:36: Guillen fumbles for the handle on Eckstein's grounder and the Cards get another freebie baserunner. Here comes Preston Wilson, pinch-hitter and former president of Princeton University. McCarver suggests that Wilson should bunt at Rodney and make him throw the ball, displaying the same sensitivity I remember from old Mets games where he used to argue that Doc Gooden should bat ahead of Charlie O'Brien. He was right, but I'm sure the whole clubhouse hated him for making the point.

10:40: Wilson walks. First and second none out. Normally you would never bunt with Pujols, but since he hasn't been hitting... Nope, no bunt. On 2-2, Pujols swings at a low fastball that was probably ball three... And he pops out to Polanco.

10:44: Leyland lets Rodney pitch to Edmonds. Whatever the reason-McCarver says it's because Rodney's change is so good-isn't this why Jamie Walker is on the roster? Ever since Walker got away from the Royals he's been a pretty good pitcher. When is Zack Greinke a free agent, 2012?

10:50: Scott Rolen sends a ball down the left field line. It went foul, but notice that once again Monroe was pulled way over to right field. Had the ball landed fair, both runners would have scored.

10:51: One pitch later, Rolen inside-outs the ball to right and Magglio Ordonez, no Tris Speaker, can't come in fast enough. The ball drops, Eckstein scores, and it's 4-2 Cards. Can LaRussa and Rolen kiss and make up now?

10:53: Belliard taps out. End of inning. Top of the order coming up for the Tigers. This is it. If the Cards can clear this group, they'll be in good shape. Note to Chris: we should probably tell the guys to start writing this year's book.

10:55: Top of the eighth. Still Weaver. This is amazing. This is a pitcher who was dumped by the Angels, who pitched quite badly for the Cardinals into September. What an unlikely hero. From LaRussa's point of view, why even go to his evil bullpen until there's a real threat?

10:59: Yet another strikeout for Weaver. Joe Torre really has some 'splainin' to do.

11:01: Guillen takes a strike and it's so unusual for the Tigers that both broadcasters praise him for it. Also: Guillen seems to have an umbilical chord around his neck.

11:03: Another strikeout ends the inning. Jeff Weaver: World Series MVP. At least it's not Sean Casey. Or Pat Borders. John Erhardt: "In all seriousness, though, this is the game I've been waiting since college to see Jeff Weaver pitch." John doesn't get out much.

11:06: Pitcher's spot up third here in the bottom of the eighth, Tony LaRussa finally looks to his bullpen. Zumaya is in for the Tigers, giving us one last chance to see one of the wonders of the 2006 season. Queen's early single "Keep Yourself Alive" repeats in my head as So Taguchi strikes out.

11:08: At last! Playoff hero Scott Spiezio appears to pinch-hit for Weaver. Credit to LaRussa for not thinking a good game or two made Spiezio into something more than what he is. Many managers would have been tempted to ride the hot hand.

11:11: Adam Wainwright enters. How many years would we have to go back before pulling a pitcher who was doing as well as Weaver would have been a move open to second-guessing? More than a decade at least. Maybe more than 20 years.

11:15: Ordonez hits the ball up the middle, off of Wainwright's glove... and a play that seemed to go wrong for the Cardinals ends up turning into just another out. If it had been the Tigers the ball would have rolled to the center field wall… and then the Earth would have opened up and swallowed Curtis Granderson as he chased after it.

11:16: With Wainwright pitching so well, is it time to start referring to Jason Isringhausen as "Wally Pipp?" It's remarked that Wainwright might go back to starting next year. Why?

11:18: Another bullet from Casey, a long double to right field that doesn't miss being a home run by all that much. Casey was awful after his acquisition by the Tigers and played a key role in their second-half slide. He's gone a small way towards making up for that this week. And I think I jinxed Wainwright with that Wally Pipp crack.

11:20: 2-0 on Pudge-Rod. He taps back to the mound on a defensive swing. Wainwright doesn't panic when he can't get the ball at first. Two outs, and Placido Polanco, who has to get a hit sometimes, has to keep the Tigers alive. I'm trying to think of really bad Series slumps... Gil Hodges went 0-for-21 in 1952. That Series helped to keep him out of the Hall of Fame, even though he had several other good ones. They were calling him "A-Rod" in '52, can you believe that? What could they possibly have meant by that?

11:22: Polanco pops up behind the plate! Out of play. Chief Meyers rests uneasily in his grave.

11:24: Polanco holds his bat on a curve that was just a bit low. …Everyone froze for a moment. Is a parachutist landing?

11:25: Wild pitch. Pinch-runner Santiago to third. He doesn't matter at all... 3-2 pitch, ball four. It's close, but Polanco scampers to first, you'd think happily. He's still 0-fer though.

11:26: Brandon Inge becomes the standard-bearer. Here's a guy who just a couple of years ago seemed like a fatally busted first round pick. He's quickly down 0-2. Wainwright can toy with him a bit.

11:27: Wainwright goes right (or wright) after him. Another off-speed pitch, the third of the sequence. Strike three! It's all over!

11:28: Wow. Tony La Russa just can't smile, can he? His mouth just won't do it. ...Inge was totally overmatched there.

11:31: I have to say these two words again: Jeff Weaver.

11:34: I have to say this again too: the Yankees gave this guy away. And the Angels too. What did Dave Duncan see that two other clubs missed?

11:36: Those World Series caps are REALLY ugly.

11:41: David Eckstein wins the Series MVP. The deadball guy, the guy the Red Sox dumped because they thought-well, who the hell knows what they were thinking back then. It was clear from the numbers he could play, but the Sox ignored that, opting for seven years of Jose Offerman instead.

11:50: Jim Leyland looks cadaverous, but then he always does. Nice gesture, taking responsibility on himself for his team's sloppy play. He's right that it really was a tremendously successful season for the Tigers franchise regardless of how poorly they played the last few days.

11:54: Speaking of Peckinpaughs, now that the Series is over, take yourself over to Turner Classic Movies Saturday night at 8 PM for the classic Sam Peckinpaugh western "Ride the High Country" with Joel McRae and Randolph Scott.

12:00: The clock strikes 12 on the 2006 baseball season. Someone break out the matches-it's time to fire up the hot stove.

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

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