October 28, 2008
Prospectus Hit and Run
(Near) Hitless Wonders
Zero for 31.
That was the combined World Series line of Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria going into the top of the fourth inning of Game Five of the World Series last night. To make matters worse, the Rays were already down 2-0 at that point, facing the prospect of needing to rally against Cole Hamels, the best pitcher of the 2008 postseason, in order to stave off elimination.
Cinderella had all but been fitted for a toe tag. Hamels was cruising against a team whose approach at the plate made one wonder whether their bus was double-parked with the engine idling, waiting for a quick getaway from a bad ending. The Phillies' ace had needed just 17 pitches through the first two innings, with Dioner Navarro's six-pitch walk the only hint of a challenge from the Tampa Bay hitters. His pitch count was at 36 by the time Pena came up with one out in the fourth, and with the rain already falling on a cold night, it appeared that the elements might get to him before the Rays would.
Pena and Longoria had combined for 26 hits, nine homers, and 21 RBI through the first two rounds of the postseason, but it appeared as though they might be headed for the most conspicuous double oh-fer in the World Series since 1939, when the Reds' Wally Berger and Lonnie Frey combined to go 0-for-32 in a four-game sweep by the Yankees. Fortunately for the Rays, those horse collars came off in the space of three pitches, as Pena launched a towering double off of the right/center-field wall-right fielder Jayson Werth had the leap timed but appeared to miss catching the shot by only an inch or two-and Longoria quickly followed with a single to left-center to put the Rays on the board.
Pena would collect one more hit before the pouring rain halted play after five and a half innings, and it was a crucial one at that. Trailing 2-1 with two outs in the top of the sixth, with the question of whether the game and thus the series might be curtailed by the inclement weather still lingering, B.J. Upton reached down and golfed a 2-2 changeup for an infield single that Jimmy Rollins couldn't quite handle cleanly as he moved towards second base. Running on a wet track, Upton brazenly stole second as Hamels delivered his first pitch to Pena. After four pickoff attempts had kept the runner honest, the southpaw could only peer over mid-delivery as he watched Upton's great jump towards second. Four pitches later, Pena knotted the game by lining a single to left field.
Pena advanced to second on a passed ball by Carlos Ruiz, and Longoria blooped a shot into the left-center field gap that hung up long enough for Shane Victorino to run down, but by that point, the weather was the dominant story. Action had already been held up a few times as the Citizens Ball Park grounds crew labored to keep the mound and infield from becoming even more of a quagmire, but the newly tied score appeared to give the umpires cover to call for a rain delay that would lead to a suspended game rather than a shortened one. The tarp was pulled onto the infield after Longoria's out, and MLB President Bob DuPuy told Fox interviewer Chris Myers that a decision had been made to halt play at the end of the half-inning regardless of the score. Still, it wasn't clear until the "post-game" press conference that Commissioner Bud Selig had conferred with the umpiring crew and team officials well before first pitch and had mandated that the game would be played in its entirety, even if that required a suspension of play that was unprecedented in World Series history. The man perhaps most infamous for calling a tie in the 2002 All-Star Game at least had the foresight to ensure that the World Championship would not be decided by Mother Nature.
Which isn't to say that playing in those sodden conditions didn't affect the quality of play, or that halting play mid-inning doesn't leave the Phillies without a legitimate reason to beef. After all, in situations like turning on stadium lights, the change can only be made at the start of the inning, forcing both teams to play under equivalent conditions, so doesn't it follow that the Phillies should have batted before the tarps came out? Particularly with any cessation in play curtailing Hamels' night-and quite possibly his season-after just 75 pitches, one can't blame the Phillies or their fans for wanting a more equitable solution.
There were no easy answers on Monday night, even to the question of when play would resume given Tuesday's grim weather forecast. All we really know is that a franchise that's won just one World Championship in its first 125 years will have to wait at least a little longer for that second one, and that an upstart's storybook season has at least one more chapter to be written.
Though Pena and Longoria each have hits to their credit now, neither is out of the woods when it comes to going down in history as World Series disappointments. What follows here is a somewhat subjective baker's dozen of notable hitless and near-hitless wonders from previous Fall Classics, in chronological order:
1-2. Jimmy Sheckard, Cubs, and Billy Sullivan, White Sox, 1906
3. Marv Owen, Tigers, 1934-1935
4. Gil Hodges, Dodgers, 1952
5-6. Dal Maxvill, Cardinals, and Bill Freehan, Tigers, 1968
7. Davey Johnson, Orioles, 1969
8. Dick Green, Athletics, 1974
Green had gone just 1-for-16 in Oakland's 1973 victory, but he under-did that the following year. New skipper Alvin Dark maintained Williams' tendency to pinch-hit for Green, who went 0-for-13 in the five-game victory over the Dodgers, but Green's slick fielding nonetheless helped him earn the Babe Ruth Award, given by the New York chapter of the BBWAA to the World Series MVP; Rollie Fingers won the official World Series MVP Award for collecting a win and two saves.
9. Frank White, Royals, 1980
10. Dave Winfield, Yankees, 1981
11-12. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, Athletics, 1988
13. Placido Polanco, Tigers, 2006
Pena and Longoria have at least shed the stigma of their zeroes, but it remains to be seen whether they'll wind up among the ranks of the infamous here or whether they'll help the Rays stave off elimination and add a few more hits to their lines. Simply by forcing Hamels' exit, the resumption of the suspended game certainly helps the Rays, but given that this game will apparently be decided by the bullpens which ranked first and second in the majors in WXRL during the season, the fact that the Phillies still have the extra at-bat in hand, not to mention the home-field advantage, shouldn't be overlooked. FanGraphs' live win expectancy show the Phils with a 58 percent shot of winning once play resumes. It remains to be seen if they can convert that advantage, and if so, how soon.