11th and Washington

11th and Washington: October 2011

Friday, October 28, 2011

What I didn't know about the DH

I know a lot about baseball. I'm not saying that to brag, just as a piece of background information. I'm not claiming to be all-knowing or a trivia savant (off the top of my head, I can't tell you who won the 1962 AL Cy Young Award or '63 World Series), but I do have a firm grasp of a lot of history, especially that which took place since I was born in 1976.

But this one stunned me: The designated hitter, introduced in '73, wasn't used in the World Series until 1976, and then only in alternating years -- regardless of ballpark -- through '85. I learned this from a Joe Posnanski post written nine days ago that I only read today. (Some of the numbers he has in there are interesting.) So yeah, even in '73, the first year of the DH, when the Mets opened the Series in Oakland, starter John Matlack took a turn at bat (and walked). And in '76, when Cincinnati hosted Games 1 and 2, Lou Piniella and Elliot Maddox of the Yankees and Dan Driessen of the Reds stood in at bat for the pitchers.

So the first National League park to experience the DH -- something that has been offered up as a way to spice up Interleague Play, by swapping the DH rule -- was Riverfront Stadium in '76, and Dodger Stadium ('78), Veterans Stadium ('80), Busch Stadium ('82) and Jack Murphy Stadium ('84) followed suit. The 1985 World Series was the last no-DH Fall Classic, and the Mets' win over the Red Sox was the first to use the current format, which uses the rules of the league of the home team.

This is fascinating to me. In 1973, when the American League -- back when the leagues were truly separate entities -- altered its rules to have a designated hitter for the pitcher, Major League Baseball decided (or refused?) that this affront to the game could not be used to decide that year's champion. It took four seasons before it was allowed. And then, when MLB decided to allow it in the Series, it chose to do so arbitrarily, alternating its use by year, just as it did with home-field advantage back then. However, it implemented the DH rule opposite the American League's home-field schedule. That is, it began use of the DH in the World Series in '76, a year in which the National League team would host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7. Why it was decided to use the DH throughout the Series or not at all for the first 10 years, instead of based on the home team in each game, is a curious choice, for sure -- and, as Posnanski touches on, perhaps had as much as an impact on the games as where it was played. For those who thought alternating home-field advantage each year was stupid and arbitrary, how about alternating DH use? Crazy.

There's always something to learn about this game. And there's always something to see. This has been an amazing World Series, a thrilling and exciting postseason, starting with the last day of the regular season. I've been watching it all and hope to take some time to write out some thoughts after it's over and I've had time to recover and digest it all.

One more game. Let's see what this season gives us for a finale.

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Parting shot

Summer time has come and gone, and everybody's home again
Closing down for the season, I found the last of the souvenirs

-- Billy Joel, "Famous Last Words"

I took this shot after the final game of the season back on Sept. 28, but I've been busy and it took me a while to go through the photos and post them. The rest of the shots -- including Jose Reyes' bunt and bolt -- are here.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Carp-e diem! What you missed if you missed last night

I can understand the view of the fan who, frustrated over another disappointed season by his team, finds no interest in the postseason. And I know what it's like to see your team, which seemed destined -- even a lock -- for the playoffs at the All-Star break, fall short on the final day of the season. But as much as I love college football, I can't let go of baseball. I love October weekends of football-full days and playoff baseball nights. And if you love the national pastime, it doesn't get much better than last night.

Birds on the batThe Brewers' walk-off win over the Diamondbacks was remarkable in its own right, but the nightcap -- Cardinals at Phillies, Chris Carpenter vs. Roy Halladay -- was pretty close to perfection for a fan of the game. As a Mets fan, sure, I probably had a greater rooting interest for the Cardinals. But even in a series in which I bear little ill will against either team (the upcoming ALCS between the Tigers and Rangers falls into that category), I tend to develop an affinity for one team over the other during the course of the game or the series.

But anyway: last night. While Arizona and Milwaukee were in the 10th inning at Miller Park, Rafael Furcal stepped to the plate in Philadelphia to start Game 5 of that series and tripled to open the game. A triple is exciting whenever it happens, but the first batter against Halladay, when half the ballpark might be expecting him to flirt with a no-hitter in a must-win game? A thing of beauty, particularly when you realize that the leadoff runner on third doesn't necessarily mean a run against an ace like Halladay. Just look at Game 2, when Furcal led off with a triple and Cliff Lee stranded him there by retiring the next three Cardinals.

Halladay wouldn't be so lucky. The next batter, Skip Schumaker, battled Halladay in a 10-pitch at-bat, culminating in a double to the right-field corner to bring home Furcal. It had the makings of a big inning, but Halladay then bore down to get out of the inning with just the one run scoring. With an ace like Carpenter on the mound for St. Louis, one run might be enough. If you're a Cardinals fan, you hope so, but you want more, just to be safe. While the Phillies lineup might not be the efficient juggernaut it appears to be (it relies more on the three-run homer than manufacturing runs), at home at cozy Citizens Bank Park a home run can change the game in a hurry.

And that's what made this game so great: Every batter the rest of the way was a big one, an important one. Every out Carpenter recorded brought the Cardinals closer to the NLCS; every baserunner the Phillies got -- there were just five -- brought them closer to tying the game on a double or taking the lead on a homer. In a 1-0 game, every pitch matters to the team trailing.

So while I may not be able to watch my favorite team this postseason, after one week I've already been able to see three thrilling winner-take-all games that have had me creeping closer to the edge of my seat with every pitch in the late innings. There hasn't been a day without baseball yet this October, and tonight the ALCS begins with one of the few pitchers better than Halladay this year, Justin Verlander, putting his stuff up against the formidable Texas lineup in its own hitter-friendly home.

I'll be watching.

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