2011 Feels More 1975 Than 1986 And The Rangers Will Win

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Post-game note: Naturally, hours after I wrote this the Cardinals beat the Rangers to win the World Series. Even with that, the following is an interesting bit on the 1975 and 1986 World Series along with proof that even the most brilliant of us can be wrong; or the most idiotic can be right. Where I fall in there is yet to be determined. Probably both.

Two of the most dramatic game sixes in World Series history happened in 1975 and 1986.

Last night, 2011 joined those two great series in memorable worthiness.

Carlton Fisk‘s “body english” dance down the first base line as he willed his long drive off of Reds righty Pat Darcy off the foul pole just above the Green Monster in Fenway Park has become one of the enduring images and stories in the history of baseball.

But there was an even more dramatic and important moment earlier in that game as pinch hitter Bernie Carbo homered with two outs and two on in the bottom of the eighth inning to tie the score.

In 1986, the Mets dramatic comeback from two runs down with two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the tenth inning against the Red Sox culminated with Mookie Wilson‘s ground ball dribbling through Bill Buckner‘s legs as Ray Knight scored the winning run.

In 1975, the Reds came back the next night and beat the Red Sox 4-3. After leading 3-0 into the sixth inning, Tony Perez hit a two-run homer off a super-slow curveball from Red Sox lefty Bill Lee to make it 3-2; Pete Rose singled to tie the score in the seventh; and the Reds took the lead in the ninth on Joe Morgan‘s bloop hit to center field.  Carl Yastrzemski flew out to Cesar Geronimo in center field as the Reds finally whacked the albatross of unmet expectations off their backs; Reds pitcher Will McEnaney repeatedly leaped into the air, spinning his arms in joy as the ball descended into Geronimo’s glove and celebrated in Fenway Park.

1986’s game 7 saw the Red Sox jump out to a 3-0, second inning lead as well on back-to-back homers by Dwight Evans and Rich Gedman. Sid Fernandez relieved Ron Darling for the Mets and electrified the crowd, striking out four in 2 1/3 innings without allowing a hit. The game was quieted down sufficiently with Fernandez’s performance to set the stage for a comeback; the Mets rallied in the bottom of the sixth to tie the score. Knight homered off of Calvin Schiraldi to lead off the bottom of the seventh; the Mets scored two more runs to extend the lead to 6-3; the Red Sox scored twice in the top of the eighth; Darryl Strawberry hit a two-run shot in the bottom of the inning to make it 8-5. Jesse Orosco struck out Marty Barrett to end the series, then flung his glove into space in a memory that will forever be entrenched in the minds of Mets fans.

There are similarities to both series for both teams playing their game 7 tonight.

The Cardinals win in game 6 was more reminiscent of the Red Sox win in 1975 than that of the Mets in 1986; last night’s game had so many twists, turns and comebacks that the only way it could end was on a walk-off homer.

But as dramatic as the Fisk homer was, people tend to forget that the Reds finally validated their place in history the next night.

After having lost in the World Series in 1970 and 1972; being bounced in the playoffs by the supposedly inferior Mets in 1973, the joke was that the Big Red Machine was equipped with a choke.

The Rangers are in a similar position as those Reds. They blew a game and championship they thought they’d already won a year after losing in the World Series; they thought they’d still be celebrating and now need to come back, play another game and win to prove that their back-to-back American League championships aren’t worthless; that the well-rounded team they’ve constructed isn’t going to go down as a disappointment that falls apart in the big moments.

Before those championships, the Reds stars—Rose, Morgan, Perez and Johnny Bench—hadn’t won anything in a team sense.

The Rangers stars—Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz—are looking for similar validation.

These Rangers rely on a decent starting rotation and ultra-deep bullpen always on call; so did those Sparky Anderson-managed Reds.

There was a sense of foreboding hovering around the 1986 Red Sox from such a devastating defeat and constant reminder of how something always seemed to go wrong to ruin whatever chance they had at finally breaking The Curse. They were destined to lose and they did.

As resilient as the 2011 Cardinals have been, they haven’t played particularly well this series—in fact, they’ve been horribly outplayed. The should’ve lost last night.

The Rangers are starting Matt Harrison tonight with C.J. Wilson on call in the bullpen set to play the Sid Fernandez-role if Harrison gets into trouble. There’s a decided on-paper disadvantage on the mound with Chris Carpenter pitching for the Cardinals.

But that won’t matter.

With that gut-wrenching loss behind them and their ability to overcome drama, on field and off, the Rangers are tougher than they’re given credit for; I don’t get the sense that the Cardinals are a team of destiny like the 1986 Mets.

And that’s why the Rangers are going to win tonight and make game 6 a dramatic and exciting footnote rather than a turning point to an unexpected championship.

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Managing Like Mauch

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Billy Martin said (it was in one of his books that he’d had ghostwritten) that when he managed against Gene Mauch, all he would do is sit back and wait for Mauch to make a mistake due to overmanaging—bunting, pitching changes, some control-freak maneuver that would backfire.

In 1986, the Red Sox benefited from one such mistake in game 5 of the ALCS in Anaheim. The Angels were ahead 3 games to 1 and leading in game 5 by the score of 5-2 when Don Baylor homered off starter Mike Witt with one out and a runner on in the top of the ninth inning to make the score 5-4. Witt got Dwight Evans to pop up for the second out; with Rich Gedman batting, Mauch pulled his starter in favor of veteran lefty Gary Lucas. Witt later said that not only could Baylor not have hit the low and outside pitch out of the park again, he couldn’t have hit it at all; Witt also said he regretted not fighting harder to stay in the game.

Lucas, who wasn’t the Angels closer, had pitched to Gedman three times in his career and struck him out each time. Gedman was 3 for 3 that day at the time and had homered off Witt earlier in the game.

There was an argument to go with the percentages and yank Witt for Lucas; there was also an argument that his staff ace Witt could handle a hitter whom he’d dominated to the tune of an .095 batting average in the regular season before that playoff series.

Lucas drilled Gedman with the first and only pitch he threw.

The Red Sox went on to win the game and the series.

In retrospect it was a ghastly mistake; in practice, it was an arguable decision.

But Mauch was a slave to the numbers and it exploded in his face.

It’s easier to go by the stats; it’s easier to have an numerical explanation for why a manager does what he does than to trust his instincts and his players and do what could be criticized later.

Mauch managed nearly 4000 games in the big leagues without making it to the World Series in part because he had some bad teams; and in part because he panicked and squeezed when he should’ve let up.

Last night as Chris Carpenter was pitching a gem against the Phillies to lead his Cardinals into the NLCS against the Brewers, there were calls on Twitter for him to be yanked as the Cardinals led 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth with Chase Utley, Hunter Pence and Ryan Howard due to bat.

Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa—oft-criticized for overmanaging and using 5 relievers to get 5 outs—left Carpenter in the game in part because he doesn’t have a dominating closer; in part because it was his horse pitching and pitching brilliantly.

The pitcher that was supposed to come into the game in the eyes of many was Marc Rzepczynski. The reasoning for this was Howard’s 4th trip to the plate against Carpenter and that Howard is awful against lefties.

It was stat-based; it had reasoning behind it; and it was ludicrous.

What those who are so invested in the numbers don’t seem to quite understand is that baseball is not a strictly scientific endeavor in which you mix the formula and achieve the desired result. For LaRussa to take Carpenter out of the game at any point in the ninth inning as it transpired would’ve been maniacally controlling and borderline deranged.

If he had a Mariano Rivera-style closer, then okay; but he didn’t. He had Arthur Rhodes and Rzepczynski; the rest of the Cardinals bullpen consists of pitchers who have all been interchangeable in the role of late-inning reliever and should not be given precedence Carpenter—a Cy Young Award winner and one of the best pitchers in baseball over the past 7 years.

Utley hit a rocket to the warning track in center field; Pence grounded out; and Howard grounded to second base and collapsed in a heap between home and first with an achilles injury.

The Cardinals won.

But that’s secondary to the premise of there being a nuance to managing that the hardest of the hard-core stat people simply do not get. They don’t know the history; they don’t understand people; and they adhere to the numbers because they don’t have a grasp of humanity to allow them to do something against their vaunted books and calculations.

The same was true when Howard came to the plate in the seventh inning as Carpenter ran the count to 3-0 and Howard swung at the pitch, just missed hitting it out of the park, and flew to right field.

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel was apparently supposed to tell his number 4 hitter and biggest RBI man that he should be taking on 3-0 and trying to walk.

That’s not what got the Phillies where they were; that’s not why Manuel is respected by his players; and that’s not how Howard accumulated the resume to get the massive contract he signed.

The players are there to play; you have to put the game in the hands of the players; if you don’t, you’d be amazed how fast the turn on you; how easily and quickly they can and will get you fired.

The enduring image from that 1986 ALCS isn’t what happened on the field in game 5 nor how the Red Sox came back to win the series; it’s Mauch standing in the corner of the dugout, waiting for the final out to be recorded to win his first pennant after so many years on the precipice; with Reggie Jackson standing next to Mauch in part to celebrate with his manager, in part to make sure he was on camera.

It was an out that Mauch had waited for 25 years to be recorded.

It was an out that never came.

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