2012 MLB Playoffs Recap, Analysis: Nationals-Cardinals Game 4, Yankees-Orioles Game 4 and More
Another day full to bursting with October baseball, and we are not close to done with even this round yet. Here we go.
This game was going to see the conclusion of an impressive comeback, one way or another. Either the Giants would recover from a 2-0 deficit to take the series with three wins on enemy turf, or the Reds would overcome a six-run San Francisco lead to save their playoff lives. It ended up the Giants, but Cincinnati made it more interesting in the final innings than it might have been.
Mat Latos and Matt Cain were rock-solid through four, which tends to suppress WPS numbers a bit: back-and-forth rates better than one-two-three. When Latos crumbled under a rally punctuated by Buster Posey's grand slam, it looked like there might be that one burst of excitement, then a slow dull march to the inevitable conclusion.
But the Reds fought back, chipping away in the next two innings and getting the tying run to the plate in the sixth through eighth. They lost those chances in painful fashion: a strikeout/throw-out double play to spike the rally in the sixth, and a diving catch by Angel Pagan to end the eighth.
The ninth was different: they got the winning run to the dish that time, with just one gone. Sergio Romo bore down when he had to, winning an epic at-bat against Jay Bruce with a fly to left and getting Scott Rolen swinging to eliminate the Reds.
Another game starting off as a pitchers' duel, but this one stayed that way. The excitement of this game built slowly and steadily, restrained by a paucity of big scoring opportunities. Once it got late, though, it was inevitable there would be one big swing. It turned out one could take that literally.
This game did belong to the pitchers. In one bravura stretch, the first eight outs Nationals hurlers recorded from the seventh inning on were by strikeout. The ninth was a lunging catch in the outfield by shortstop Ian Desmond. As his misplay in the third had allowed St. Louis to tie the score at one, it was a redemptive moment, one of the themes developing this postseason.
Another is the walk-off win. Jayson Werth provided the firepower, working a long leadoff at-bat into the game-winning homer, the fourth walk-off in 18 post-season games thus far. I would venture to ask what Jayson's Werth, but that's kinda like asking what's a Grecian urn.
Okay, one more observation to cleanse that awful joke from your minds. After all the fuss over whether the D.C. subway system would stay open late to handle the crowds leaving Nationals playoff games, Washington's first two home dates of the series were played in the daytime. Last I read, Game Five will be at 8:30 tonight. Good to see we didn't have the controversy for nothing.
The second most-exciting game (by WPS) of the postseason so far, though it ended in one of the worst ways. Stand back, everybody: I'm going to breathe fire for a few paragraphs.
Opening the 12th inning, Matt Wieters hit a broken-bat flare into left for a single. This wouldn't be extraordinary, except that the barrel of his bat struck Yankees pitcher Joba Chamberlain on his pitching elbow. Chamberlain was forced to leave the game, and while New York escaped that inning, Chamberlains's relief, David Phelps, did not escape the 13th. The course of a playoff game was arguably altered due to a player being injured by a broken bat.
Frangible bats have been a pet peeve of mine for years, but this officially makes them a cause. They are an aesthetic plague, and now they are showing themselves as what they have always been: a physical danger. Baseball supposedly took steps to reduce the frequency of bats breaking, but I haven't noticed much improvement, perhaps because there hasn't been much.
I will be blunt. Unless something serious is done—mandating a minimum handle diameter comes to mind—there will come a day when a bat shard goes flying, hits someone sharp-end first in the wrong place, and he bleeds to death on the field. If MLB is "lucky," it will be an umpire or a batboy. If it isn't, it'll be Miguel Cabrera, or R.A. Dickey, or Mike Trout. This incident, by turning the course of a playoff series, might just might inspire a little action. But I wouldn't count on it.
As for Chamberlain: is this man a bizarreness magnet or what? The midges in Cleveland, the trampoline accident earlier this year, now the homing shard. I am never standing next to him during a thunderstorm.
I suppose I should talk about that the actual game a little, too. Both starters, Joe Saunders and Phil Hughes, made things harder than they had to be for themselves in the early going but avoided most of the trouble they sowed. Saunders allowed baserunners in every inning he pitched; Hughes let the leadoff man reach in four of his first five innings. He settled down in the sixth and seventh but was at his limit by then and departed.
Joe Girardi was perhaps too much influenced by the lightning in a pinch-hitting bottle from the previous night, sending Raul Ibanez up for shortstop Jayson Nix in the ninth (he grounded out), and Eric Chavez for Alex Rodriguez in the 12th (he lined out to end the game). That's two nights in a row that A-Rod has sat down for a pinch-hitter in a crucial spot. This is now officially a crisis, at least in the New York tabloids.
If the Yankees want to salvage this series, they need CC Sabathia to pitch well and the Orioles' starter not to. If history follows its current pattern, they will get the first but not the second.
Otherwise known as the game I didn't get to watch because the Orioles and Yankees were re-enacting the Ironman Triathlon (even though the Iron Man was in the broadcast booth, not on the field).
Not much I can say about this from personal observation, and really not much there to say. If you are going to get to Justin Verlander, you generally need to do it early. The A's didn't do it, early, late, or ever. Two runs would have been more than ample for Detroit this night, but they made it six just to be sure.
We have seen history. For the first time ever, all four Division Series have gone the limit. That means two deciding games tomorrow and more work for your intrepid reporter. (That would be me, I think.)
Congratulations to the Giants and Tigers, and we will see you tomorrow night!
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