Two teams with very different recent pedigrees—the St. Louis Cardinals & the Baltimore Orioles stared death in the face on Monday—at least for all practical purposes—as they took the field for Game 2 of their respective Game 2s in the Division Series of the MLB playoffs, and each came up with a win for the home crowd that knotted things up at a game apiece. Let’s look back on the keys to Monday’s games, and ahead to Tuesday…
Baltimore 3 NY Yanks 2: It was the reverse of Sunday night’s opener, a game where New York made a couple key baserunning mistakes, but still managed to win. On Monday it was Baltimore who cost themselves two runs due to plays on the bases.
One of them came on defense right out of the box. Rightfielder Chris Davis had Ichiro Suzuki gunned at the plate with room to spare. Ichiro eluded the tag of Oriole catcher Matt Wieters, overran home plate and then dove back just ahead of Wieters to get his hand. You can actually make a pretty good case that this was less a Wieters mistake, then a tremendous effort by Suzuki, in getting his hand up and over the tag to touch home plate.
The second was an inexcusable error by Baltimore’s J.J. Hardy. With runners on first and second and two outs, Adam Jones grounded a ball in the hole. It went off the glove of Derek Jeter (it would have been an infield hit in either case and was scored as such) and trickled into left field. Hardy, looking over his shoulder, thought Jeter had gotten the ball and held at third when he could have scored easily. TBS commentators John Smoltz and Cal Ripken each made excuses for Hardy. They all sounded reasonable except for one problem—the third-base coach was in plain view cranking his arm like a windmill!!!
Like Mark Teixeira dogging it out of the box in Game 1 and costing himself a key double, Hardy is not alone in this mistake. It seems every player in MLB has decided base coaches are superfluous ornaments these days. This video needs to be sent to youth baseball coaches around the country.
Since Baltimore won the game I suppose I should talk about some things they did well. It starts with Wei-Yin Chen, who worked into the seventh inning and gave up just two runs. Chen survived a shaky first when he needed a line-drive double play that preceded the play by Ichiro noted above. And he got himself out of a bases-loaded one-out jam in the fourth.
Otherwise Chen, making his first postseason start, outdueled grizzled October veteran Andy Pettite. The Yankee lefthander pitched well, but had a bout of sudden loss of command in the third, and was touched for a crucial run in the sixth. Pettite still delivered a 7 IP/3 ER night that would be enough to win most games. The night ended with a big relief for Baltimore fans, quite literally, as Jim Johnson set the side down without incident in the ninth. After Johnson’s erratic close in the wild-card win over Texas and his Game 1 meltdown, the Orioles needed some assurance that their closer wasn’t losing it.
St. Louis 12 Washington 4: It was shades of postseasons past for two players. After Washington had grabbed a 1-0 lead and put a little pressure on the Cardinals, David Freese stepped up and delivered an RBI double to quickly tie it back up and restore some order. The 2011 postseason hero has hit well in both games of this series. Then Carlos Beltran conjured up shades of 2004 when he was in a Houston Astros uniform and utterly dominated the National League playoffs, including against these Cardinals, even if St. Louis did ultimately win a seven-game NLCS. Beltran went deep twice and helped keep the Nats at bay in the later innings.
St. Louis, as the twelve runs indicate, got contributions up and down the lineup, including three hits from Allen Craig and an unlikely home run from Daniel Descalco. It was necessary, because the St. Louis middle relief was a little shaky. Mike Matheny had a quick hook, pulling Jaime Garcia after he gave up the second-inning run and going to Lance Lynn. But the Nats touched Lynn for home runs by Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman, and later on in the game Edwin Mujica also surrendered a run.
What the Cardinals did get was a clean inning from Mitchell Boggs, the setup man who had struggled in the early postseason games and that’s something to give them a sigh of relief.
TBS begins doubleheader action at 5:30 PM ET, with San Francisco-Cincinnati & Detroit-Oakland going back-to-back. The Reds and Tigers have the chance to clinch berths in the League Championship Series round that will start this weekend.
The pressure today would have to be a little more on Cincinnati. The initial plan to push Johnny Cueto back to today after his back spasms forced a quick departure in Game 1 have been scrapped. Homer Bailey pitches instead, and Cueto’s status for a potential Game 4 is still up in the air. I don’t know that the Reds want this series to stretch on with their ace’s ability to pitch undetermined on a day-to-day basis. San Francisco puts its season in the hands of Ryan Vogelsong, after a somewhat curious decision to burn up Tim Lincecum in a lost cause in long relief on Sunday.
Detroit can play with the assurance that Justin Verlander lies in wait for Game 5, even if Oakland wins these next two games, but because the A’s are at home, this is another spot where there’s some pressure on the leading team to close this out quickly. Anibal Sanchez will take the first shot at doing that, and Max Scherzer would pitch tomorrow. If Oakland wins these games—certainly realistic on their homefield, the Tigers might have Verlander, but there would be considerable pressure on Detroit if this series is still going on Thursday.
In short, let’s not put Cincinnati and Detroit into the LCS too quickly. Things can change in hurry in the postseason, especially a best-of-five, and each team should play tonight with a desire to finish things off ASAP.
St.Louis-Washington & Baltimore-NY Yanks will travel today, as they go to the nation’s capital and the Big Apple to resume play on Wednesday