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Payback for Tony?

Not that this is any great proclamation, but the Cardinals are going to be awfully tough to beat at this point. I mean, even the elements are on their side. A slip by Curtis Granderson in center field and a double by David Eckstein that’s an out if its six inches to the left were the two key moments in St. Louis’ 5-4 win over the Detroit Tigers in Game 4 of the World Series. Stuff like that happens, and a team starts to get the feeling of destiny, and that makes them even better than they normally would be. Picture the 1988 Dodgers.

Anyway, you watch these two plays take place on television, as I did, and you see how excited Tony La Russa is in the dugout. It’s as if his pure desire to win briefly blocks out the intensity La Russa usually exudes. It’s a great look. And you can’t really begrudge a La Russa-managed team that luck, because the truth is, La Russa has dealt with more than his share of buzzard’s luck.

In 1988, his A’s club ran into Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson, but they also were victimized by the likes of Mickey Hatcher, Mike Davis, Tim Leary and so many other average players who played above their abilities as the team’s luck crescendoed. Everybody remembers that.

But nobody remembers the Game 2 loss in 1990 against the Reds, when Billy Bates’ grounder off Dennis Eckersley kicked up chalk and won it for Cincinnati in extra innings. There was the Roberto Alomar home run in 1992 (also off Eckersley), the blown 3-1 lead in his first NLCS trip as the Cards manager, and a whole share of early-round losses. He’s taken his lumps from folks who have said he can’t manage in the postseason.

Well, guess what! La Russa is on the verge of joining Sparky Anderson as only the second manager ever to win a World Series in the American and National leagues. He has adjusted his managing style at times, stuck with his original guns at others, and now is getting a healthy dose of luck. Which is what he should get because luck is the result of relentless attack, and if nothing else defines a club managed by La Russa, it’s that club’s ability to go relentlessly day in and day out.

Looks like after all these years, it will finally get the reward it deserves.

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Selig’s stature

Wrote about Bud Selig for Thursday morning’s paper, and I’ll be interested in hearing what you, the reader, thinks about it. Essentially claims that Bud Selig might be the best commissioner of all-time, and I’d be interested to hear the arguments against that. For Selig to nail down a collective bargaining agreement for another four years is one thing. To do it two months before the old agreement expired is mind-blowing. Heck, avoiding a work stoppage four years ago was a borderline miracle, and now Selig has done it twice in succession. Name another commissioner (or world leader, for that matter) who could’ve brought together two sides that had such distrust for one another.

Kills me to say it, too, because Selig is a guy who’s real easy to tease. I mean, what about him screams “distinguished leader.” And I know that his job, essentially, is to do what the owners want, individual team performance be darned. But he’s made other owners realize that to truly flourish as a league, they need to work together with the players. And he’s convinced the players that for the continued success of the league, they need to cooperate with the owners. Blows my mind to understand the skills that would go into something like that. I like to think I’ve got terrific people skills, but I can’t imagine walking into that room the first time.

As far as the steroids stain, it wouldn’t shock me at all if Selig is someday remembered fondly by fans, because at least his sheer lack of presence in front of Congress exposed to both sides that this was not something that could be hidden from the public anymore. Not sure the public even cares that baseball players are using steroids, but it’s as if they’ve said, “darn it, if those players want to use, fine, but I, the fan, have the right to know about it.” Sort of like scuffing a ball in the World Series. Does anybody really care that pitchers still try to gain an edge?

And last, on a different subject, not sure if Game 4 is as important as it normally is. The last two times the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals have met in a World Series, the Game 4 winner went on to lose.

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Sounding off

I was chatting with Ken Macha casually the day after he’d been Louis XVI’d by Billy Beane, and not surprisingly, he was upbeat. The one part of conversation that I can reval is that he was looking forward to becoming a family man again in Pittsburgh, but that the “transition isn’t always that easy.”

Amen, brother. One of the interesting facets of my profession occurs immediately after the locals are finished, and I have to blend in with my family again. Granted, it’s quite a bit easier now that I’m not on the beat, but let’s just say, it isn’t always that easy. I’ll spare you the details, other than to say that when you’ve been going full speed for 8 months, the reduction to slow speed grates on all.

Anyway, I’ve been off in the no-blog zone since the A’s were eliminated by the Tigers, but I’ll be making daily entries until then. A few of the things that I’ve observed in the interim:

— Good for Billy Beane for firing Ken Macha. You simply can’t criticize your gutsiest player or essentially fire an employee in front of others, but that’s what Macha did with Mark Kotsay and Scott Sauerbeck, respectively. Fixing the “disconnect” immediately is what good general managers do, and we all know about Beane’s track record.

— Having said that, good for Macha, too. He got himself an extra three-year contract last fall, and essentially, two extra seasons after nearly quitting at the end of 2004. There will be enough folks in the game who respect his work that he’ll find a job eventually, and four years of being Beane’s manager is enough for any lifetime.

— My respect level for Bud Selig continues to increase, even if is begrudgingly. The fact that a new labor deal was reached two months before the current one expired might be his crowning achievement. If not for the scurge of steroids, Selig might be able to argue that he’s the best commish ever.

— Saw the name “Andy MacPhail” in more than a couple of news reports regarding Selig’s one-day successor.

— Anyone paying attention to the Giants these days?

— Regarding Dirtgate: One obvious reason — pure conjecture on my part — St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa wouldn’t protest too loudly about the substance on Kenny Rogers’ hand is that he wouldn’t want to expose any of his own pitchers to such scrutiny.

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Detroit Rock City

It won’t go down as painfully as the Kirk Gibson home run in the 1988 World Series, but A’s fans get to live with the knowledge that another historic postseason home run has broken their heart.

This time, it was Magglio Ordonez, whose three-run blast on the first pitch he saw from A’s closer Huston Street, sent the Detroit Tigers to the World Series for the first time in 22 years. Interesting karma, too. The occasion came exactly 22 years to the day that the Motor City Kitties celebrated their last World Series, a night defined by another Gibson home run.

There should be no regrets if you’re an A’s fan. The Tigers were simply better. The A’s jumped to a 3-0 lead in Game 4, and starter Dan Haren was nasty for five innings. But the Tigers eventually got to him, and once they tied the contest, the ending seemed inevitable.

Want to mention this about Street, too. According to fellow scribes who were there, Street answered every question in the postgame clubhouse. I arrived in there a good half hour after the final pitch, and he was still there, with his head up, talking about the steps he can take to get better. You can’t teach that, and it’s the reason the A’s closing duties should be in good hands for years to come.

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Game 4 (Motown Mo’)

So much for that. The Tigers are roaring again, thanks to a two-run rally in the bottom of the fifth that has them within a run, 3-2. It was quite the thing to watch, too.

The uprising started with Brandon Inge nubbing a ball up the third-base line for an infield hit that Eric Chavez made worse by throwing the ball past first base. One out later, Curtis Granderson reached at a typical Dan Haren cutter and looped one into right-center for a double. Yep, that’s right, a double. Granderson never hesitated around first, challenged Milton Bradley’s arm and made a terrific slide into the inside of the bag (though one had to wonder why Marco Scutaro, the A’s shortstop, took the throw from behind the bag). Next came a lined double that just eluded left fielder Jay Payton.

Placido Polanco then hit another seed _ is it true this guy is hitting .900 in his career? _ but right to second baseman D’Angelo Jimenez, who then doubled Monroe off second to end the inning.

So the A’s remain in front, but an impending sense of doom has taken hold. No question the Tigers can feel it.

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Game 4 (A glimmer?)

Well, well, well. Perhaps there remains a flicker for the boys with the “Holy Toledo” patches after all. Four innings complete here in Detroit, and the A’s are up 3-0. They’ve led since the third batter of the game, meaning they’ve played more innings (four) with the lead in this one than they had the entire series (two).

Dan Haren is once again showing why he’s the the best choice to pitch a big game for the A’s. He’s been nasty from the beginning, his splitter falling of the table and his fastball moving with electricity. He’s held Detroit to just two hits through four, and has seven strikeouts. He’s also pitched out of his only jam, fanning Ivan Rodriguez on three pitches and shattering Alexis Gomez’s bat to kill Detroit’s first-and-second, one-out threat in the fourth.

Meantime, Milton Bradley has remained in the game, but it’s clear his right thigh muscle is bugging him. Not sure if he can keep playing on it, but Bradley has shown himself to be a gamer of the highest level.

Anyway, halfway done here (the A’s went in order in the top of the fifth), and a three-run lead. Think the A’s would’ve taken that without any objections when the day began?

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ALCS Game 4 (Buzzard’s Luck?)

If you could encapsulate the American League Championship Series into one inning, look no further than the top of the first today. The A’s struck first, thanks to Milton Bradley. Yet, another development might wind up being more important, and naturally _ given the A’s luck in this series _ it’s a negative one.

Bradley, who has been the A’s best player by far in this series,put his team ahead 1-0 with an opposite-field double off Detroit Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman. But the good feeling associated with that dissipated when Bradley pulled up lame after taking off for third base while Frank Thomas was hitting. It appeared to be something with his right thigh muscle, and when he subsequently scored on Eric Chavez’s double, Bradley was running very gingerly.

If Bradley has to come out at some point _ and given the 50-degree temperature, that remains a distinct possibility _ the A’s will be deprived of their top RBI guy in the series. That would be a huge blow anyway, because Bradley has two home runs, a double and seven RBI against Detroit, but especially so because Frank Thomas continues to struggle. Thomas popped out with Bradley on second and is now 0-for-11 in the series.

Stay tuned.

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ALCS Game 4 (Pregame)

The folks are starting to file into Comerica Park, and there’s a festiveness in the air. Can’t blame them. Any day that you wake up with a chance to watch your team go to the World Series has the promise of being unforgettable. Besides, these fans have watched a lot of hideous baseball over the past decade and a half, so much that you forget the Detroit Tigers once were one of baseball’s proud franchises. They don’t need a win today to re-establish their good standing — the did that long ago — but it would be a nice exclamation point to a magical season.

The A’s, meantime, have to pin their hopes on Dan Haren. If Haren produces a gem along the lines of Sept. 13 in the Metrodome — eight shutout innings in a 1-0 win — then the A’s can push this to Sunday. Then, Barry Zito would get a chance to make sure his last Oakland memory isn’t a dud. And then, who knows, perhaps they get the series back to Oakland and all bets are off.

On second thought, there are way too many “if’s” in that equation. Bottom line is that a superior team is smelling the brass ring. It reminds me of when the A’s swept the Red Sox in the ALCS back in 1988. Attended both games that year, and you could just sense before those games that there was nothing the Red Sox could do to put off the inevitable. Same feeling pervades here.

Yep, Motown most likely will be partying here in a few hours. And then all those “brain-dead” folks who live here — it was a joke, people! — will be the envy of the baseball-watching world.

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ALCS Game 3 (7th-inning stretch)

The white towels are out in force at Comerica Park, and the way folks are waving them in the air, it looks like the expected snow flurries have started early. And unless a certain place freezes over here in the next couple of innings, the A’s will be jaw-deep in a 3-0 deficit in the American League Championship Series.

To this point, they have been mesmerized by Tigers starter Kenny Rogers, who looks as imposing in a Tigers uniform as Denny McLain once did. Rogers has allowed only two hits in seven innings, and it’s hard to remember a single ball that’s been hit on the screws. That’s 14 2/3 innings worth of goose eggs in the postseason for Rogers, who has changed permanently the paragraph on his baseball biography that dealt with his inability to pitch big games.

Meantime, the A’s got a decent effort out of Rich Harden. He departed after 5 2/3 innings, having allowed three runs. And if the A’s weren’t willing to take that entering this game, they just weren’t being realistic.

Anyway, when this series is over _ and at this point, there’s no reason to think it’ll last beyond Saturday _ the A’s will point to many things for their failures. Frank Thomas has struggled offensively, Eric Chavez’s failed to make a couple of terrific plays that he normally makes in his sleep; and Barry Zito and Esteban Loaiza stunk. But this series has been more about what the Tigers have done than what the A’s haven’t. Anyone who says otherwise must be seeing a different game.

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ALCS Game 3 (Glass half empty)

So,what kind of alternative plans do you have for the World Series? I mean, not to dump dirt on the A’s prematurely, but Detroit’s 2-0 lead halfway through Game 3 seems like a 20-0 lead, the way Kenny Rogers is dealing. The Gambler has retired 10 of the last 11 he’s faced, and the lone exception, Marco Scutaro, was retired on the front end of a double play to end the fifth.

Rich Harden is out to start the fifth, and he’s hung in there since his bad opening inning. He can’t retire Placido Polanco _ he’s 2-for-2 _ but then again, who on the A’s staff can. Polanco is now 6-for-10 in the series.

The A’s may not win this series, but at least the nation has received a glimpse of Mark Kotsay’s brilliance in center field. Kotsay single-handedly bailed Harden out of a potentially rough fourth inning, first by making a sliding catch of Ramon Santiago’s sinking soft looper to center field, then by sprinting a good 30-40 yards to run down Curtis Granderson’s drive to right-center field. Both plays occurred with one out and a runner on second base.

Meantime, some quick housekeeping. Mentioned in an earlier blog that Ramon Santiago was the DH. He’s actually the DH, with Omar Infante in the DH slot.

Oh, and it’s up to 45 degrees outside. Nice and balmy.