Let's All Wildly Overreact to What Happened in the Game We Just Saw
by Mark T.R. Donohue
Cardinals win Game 1 in Detroit: series over. Detroit wins Game 2: series back on! Cardinals win Game 3: series over, again. I do so enjoy this time of year. There are two ways to go with regards to St. Louis's 5-0 victory lst night. First of all, you can freak out. The worst team in the history of the playoffs ever is going to win! Frogs will hail! Or then again it could mean nothing. Detroit couldn't beat the Cardinals' best pitcher at home, just like St. Louis couldn't beat the Tigers' best guy at Comerica. Carpenter and Rogers will each go once more (barring a whole mess of rain delays). That means the series is still up to the Bondermans, the Weavers, the Verlanders, and the Reyes-es just like it always was. If I wasn't so violently anti-Leyland I might even be rooting to see the Tigers roll off two wins here so we might get to see Rogers and Carpenter go head to head in Game 6. I don't think the chances of that are very good, however.
It wouldn't be a good idea to read too much into Game 3 in isolation. Carpenter didn't need to be dominating; he backpedaled into a more strategic efficient mode and the result was one of the least interesting games of the postseason thus far. It remains to be seen whether any of the other St. Louis starters have the command and the smarts to repeat last night's approach. What was impressive and indeed, bland about Carpenter's work last evening is that assisted by one of those whimsical strike zones that umpire unification was supposed to have done away with the righthander threw a wide variety of first-pitch strikes that the Tiger batters could neither take nor hit safely. This Detroit team is built to attack. They're not good playing from behind (at least after their charmed first half of the regular season), and they're not good down in the count.
When you combine the results of Game 3 along with the Tigers' offensive output in the first two games, that's when it starts to look dicey for Detroit. Lost in the dirt cloud of Game 2 was the fact that Detroit hasn't really done much in the way of scoring runs so far in this series, and that was supposed to be where their biggest advantage over St. Louis loomed. Oh, and also their bullpen, which hasn't been flawless itself. Their brilliant manager has had a rather poor series, too, whether it's continuously fielding a lineup with at least one guaranteed rally-killer batting per inning, moving Carlos Guillen to first so that the powerless Sean Casey could DH in Detroit, or using the bullpen in a random and failure-encouraging fashion. Where is Chris Shelton? Honestly, between Neifi Perez and a guy who hit 16 homers (granted, 10 of them in April), who is going to make the difference in a series? Between Neifi Perez and a pitching machine? Between Neifi Perez and an infield rake?
Let's take a moment away from gleefully celebrating the Tigers' imminent demise to tie a bow around the Kenny Rogers thing. You know what this is? It's the MLB version of the Terrell Owens suicide hotline megacrisis. Because it's baseball and not the NFL, it's a little less ridiculously overblown, it has a kind of old-timey spin to it, and the coverup is far less graceful. Bud Selig and Donald Fehr had everything but the canes and the bowler hats while they were on the field in Fox's pregame last night explaining everything away. You'll notice in Selig-Fehr's effusive praise of everyone from the umpires to Tony La R to, I think, Kenny Rogers himself, what a rascal, they danced around the main point -- the only point -- delicately. Did Rogers break the rules? It seems like he did. It also seems that nothing more will come of it than has already. It's part of the lore now. The rules of baseball lore dictate that caught-cheating incidents are charming and part of the game's rich tapestry so long as 1) gamblers are not involved and 2) the cheating team ultimately gets its just desserts or at least doesn't win solely as a direct result of said cheating. Mike Scott OK, Chick Gandil bad.
I realize it doesn't really jibe with sabermetric orthodoxy, but I am sticking with my whole theory about Detroit offending the baseball gods by bringing out everything but the Rose Parade in their celebrations after winning their first two postseason series. Maybe it's facing better pitching, maybe it's the big layoff after the ALCS sweep, but the Tigers haven't looked at all composed or prepared in the three games so far. We haven't touched the Joel Zumaya brain lock. What were the Tigers doing all week before the World Series began? Were they looking at film, stacking up extra cuts in the cages, and taking infield practice? Or were they all getting mani-pedis in advance of their postchampionship talk show gigs? Every time you read something about the team with the better scouting reports and the prepared stance in this series, it's the Cardinals, who were supposed to be exhausted, spent, and also to begin with not even very good. For turning your team from world-beaters to worm-feeders in a scant seven days...YOU SUCK, JIM LEYLAND!