By Pat Jordan
I was being paid to watch the World Series, so I paid attention. It was exhausting and enlightening. I was forced to concentrate to a degree that I never had before.
Before, I had watched sports to see what I wanted to see. My 'Canes beat the Seminoles. The Rays beat the Yankees. The Spurs beat the Lakers. I didn't watch to learn anything new. I watched to have my beliefs verified. The 'Canes were tougher than the 'Noles in the fourth quarter. The Spurs played a superior, more selfless brand of basketball than the Lakers. The under-financed Rays played baseball as it was meant to be played, like fun-loving boys. The over-financed Yankees played the game without joy, like robber barons, only for money. The Red Sox played the game like mindless brats. The Cardinals played without passion, as expected of bland midwesterners. The Tigers played the game with a casual grace.
The Tigers were the best team in baseball. The Yankees played below their pay scale; the Rays played above theirs. The Cardinals were lucky. The Red Sox were always a Team of Destiny, for one ridiculous reason or another.
Tim McCarver was the best baseball analyst on television.
When my verities were proven to be false, or merely wishful thinking, I was crushed. I was, after all, a fan! Except during this year's World Series. I was forced to look for what was true, rather than what I wanted or expected to be true. Some of the things that I thought were true, were true, and some were false. There were a lot of things I'd never noticed before, some of them obvious, some mystifying, some gratifying, some disillusioning, some important and some trivial. I learned that the Cardinals had more Matts than the bed and bath department at Walmart. I learned that the Cardinals also had an awful lot of young pitchers throwing 98 mph heat. I learned that the Red Sox had picked up a lot of role-playing retreads on the cheap (Ross, Gomes, Victorino, Napoli) and sandwiched them around the meat of their order (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Ortiz), to produce a very dangerous lineup from top to bottom.
I learned that Tim McCarver, who had played in the major leagues for 20 years, was now retiring as a TV analyst, after calling 24 World Series. I also learned, to my astonishment, that he should have retired many years earlier, precisely at that moment when he stopped analyzing baseball games as a perceptive ex major-leaguer and began analyzing games as a clueless and facile TV broadcaster, who seemed never to have played the game he was now watching. I learned that the best TV analysts were those closest to their playing days (A.J. Pierzynski). The worst TV analysts were those farthest removed from their playing days, or who never really had playing days. Players understood the game in a way that journalists didn't. Journalists learned in college that every sports event must have a narrative, the story, whether true or not. The narrative must sound true, however. It must make sense and be reasonable.
But baseball isn't a rational game. That's the fun of it, why it's so cathartic. Because it's unencumbered by time, anything can happen until the fat lady sings. Its outcome can't be diagrammed on a blackboard before a game. Its verities are not inviolable. The Cardinal Rules of baseball are not the Ten Commandments. They are wrong more than half the time. Don't let the other team's best hitter beat your team in a close game. So, the other team's worst hitter beats your team -- how did that happen? It happened because baseball is a game of mystery, accident, fate, chance, human error, human excellence. It has less to do with the team than it does the individual. Each player does his own individual little dance, alone. No one contributes to a pitcher's 98 mph fastball but the pitcher. No one picks up that hot ground ball to his left but the shortstop. There is no element of the team in Miguel Cabrera standing at the plate, nonchalant, waiting, uncoiling, driving that 98 mph fastball over the centerfield fence. Every scenario in a baseball game is unexpected. The home run hitter swings for the fences and hits a little dribbler down the first-base line, which the pitcher instinctively pounces on and flips to his first baseman.
But the irrational complexity of the game, and the human beings who play it, betrays most journalists' need for rational narratives. So they create them, like novelists. Journalists approach baseball as fiction, something they can invent, order and control. But baseball is non-fiction, a messy, irrational, mysterious reality, controlled only by the men who play it.
Game 1, Boston
The pregame show was peopled by The Usual Suspects from Fox Sports. Ken Rosenthal, a short brunet, and Erin Andrews, a tall blonde, roamed the field and the stands searching for a narrative. Rosenthal is a baseball nerd (a compliment). He wears big bowties, for charity, which he admits give him the demeanor of Pee-wee Herman. Still, he knows the game and asks the right questions, which Andrews does not. She has Big Dallas hair, piled on top of her head in layers, like a blonde wedding cake.
The Fox Sports panel of ex-players (Harold Reynolds) and current players (Jimmy Rollins, A.J. Pierzynski) was an eclectic crew. Reynolds wore a black suit and tie out of Reservoir Dogs, but with panache. He actually seemed comfortable in his snazzy suit, which most players would consider as constraining as a straight jacket. Reynolds acted as cheerleader for his panel. He has a big, infectious smile and the enthusiasm of a man who loves the game. It was an enthusiasm that Rollins lacked. He was small and timidly soft-spoken, as if confined to a TV hell that his agent had thought would be a nice gig. Yet when Rollins did speak, it was to let his viewers know what a ballplayer did on the field, and why.
Pierzynski, now, was a piece of work. Tousled hair over his brow and a wicked gleam in his eye to match his grin. He resembled one of those evil boys in English boarding schools, who have just set fire to their school and are watching it burn to the ground with sardonic grins. He was recently voted "The Most Hated Player" in baseball, no small feat in a game mostly devoid of human contact. A fellow catcher once punched him out on a play at the plate. His own manager with the White Sox, Ozzie Guillen, once said of him, "If you play against him, you hate him. If you play with him, you hate him a little less." Pierzynski's role on the panel, which he handled with laconic aplomb, was to tell the unpleasant truths about the game.
The two celebrity guests were Rob Lowe, the actor, whose waxy beauty looked less human than a figure from Madame Tussauds, and Conan O'Brien, the late-night talk show host, who uses his unruly red pompadour and lanky Gumby physique as his comic props. Lowe did a segment on how fathers playing catch with their sons forged a loving bond that strengthened families and America. My father was a professional gambler who taught me as a child how to spot shaved dice in a craps game. His loving moral to me was: Let the other guy be the sucker, you keep your wits about you. It sure strengthened our bond and helped me survive as an adult, in a way that catches in the backyard wouldn't have. This cliché should have been laid to rest, oh, say, after the 1919 Black Sox World Series.
O'Brien did a similarly trite and predictable bit on the Red Sox' beards. He said those beards made the Sox look "badass," when they actually made them look laughable, like 1890s Vaudeville strong men. O'Brien's point, of course, was that not only did those beards make the Red Sox look tough, but they forged a team unity that propelled them to this World Series. In other words, "If we all look stupid together, we'll win more baseball games." Which, naturally, they did, which was another justification for all of baseball's mindless superstitions (Don't step on that chalk line!), whose most fervid practitioners seemed to be the Red Sox. Cowboy Up! Boston Strong! (which we'll get to in a bit). The true significance of the beards, I would posit, was that they proved that the beauty of the game could not be diminished even by its practitioners' mindless superstitions.
Which brings me to the two most significant World Series broadcasters, Tim McCarver and Joe Buck, the Walter Cronkite and Brian Williams of baseball broadcasting. McCarver, by virtue of his 72 years and broadcasting longevity, was the grizzled old veteran, while Buck was his younger acolyte. After years of dying his hair a washed-out red, McCarver had finally let it go gray, which did make him look more ruggedly handsome, like those studs in Viagra commercials who flex their manhood by lighting a bonfire on the beach at midnight, while their girlfriends wait expectantly in a tent. As the wily old vet, it was McCarver's role to teach the young bucks by example. Never speak when you can pontificate. Be pedantic. You know it all, and they don't know jack. You are the gray-haired Professor (at least now you are) with a doctorate in baseball, and your viewers are freshman naïfs. Which is why you should always be authoritative even when you're clueless. Never admit you're wrong even when you are, although really, you never are. Finally, and above all else, avoid humor. Humor diminishes the gravitas of your sport, your words and most importantly yourself, which is the point, isn't it? You are a serious man, and this is a serious business. So what if some of your cohorts don't know this? So what if they treat the game as they remember it, as fun, like that Harold Reynolds and his acolyte, that blasphemous, evil-grinning son of Chucky. At least you have your acolyte. Thank God for Joe Buck.
Joe Buck (of the great name from Midnight Cowboy) is 44. He still has the boyishly smooth face of Dorian Gray, yet he's lacking in boyish enthusiasm. He is his mentor's creation, droning and humorless, but without his mentor's authoritative air. It is not Buck's job on-air to pontificate. He's a supporting player, Don Quixote's Sancho Panza. Buck does not interrupt McCarver's little gems, not even when they are obviously, to be charitable, misguided. You will not hear Buck ever say, "Yo, Timmy, what play were you lookin' at? The guy was out by 20 feet!" No, it is Buck's job to put his hand over his mic, whisper in McCarver's ear, and then let McCarver weasel out of his error on air with an elaborate obfuscation.
It was left to Buck to provide this first game's deep-thought narrative. His narrative had to do with the Boston Marathon bombing. He showed film clips of people bleeding on the street, a woman crying, a man with no legs in a wheelchair, a fluttering American flag, and a number of Red Sox players visiting injured marathoners in the hospital. After the bombing, the Red Sox assumed as their rallying cry the phrase "Boston Strong!" It was their tribute to the bomb victims, the city of Boston and themselves. Because of this, Buck implied, the Red Sox were sentimental favorites in the Series. I found this narrative distasteful in the extreme, to use victims of a terrorist attack as inspiration to win baseball games. Besides, it was really unnecessary, since the Red Sox already had three other, slightly less compelling narratives in their ball bag. One, the Sox were vying to become only the second team ever to finish in last place in one season and then win the World Series in the next, following the Twins in 1991. Two, the Sox had never won a final game of a World Series at Fenway Park, since, I don't know, maybe before the discovery of fire. And of course, there was the third canard, those stupid beards. I don't know about you, but I just felt this was piggish of the BoSox, hogging four compelling narratives to themselves, while the poor, bland, hapless Cardinals couldn't even be afforded one.
* * *
The first game's starting pitchers were veterans of contrasting styles. The Sox's Jon Lester was a southpaw dart thrower, small, sharp cutter, slider, 94 mph fastball. The Cards' Adam Wainwright was a classic over-the-top righty, 95 mph fastball, big, downbreaking curveball. Lester worked batters in and out. Wainwright worked them up and down. Lester's cutter and slider moved left-to-right. Wainwright's curveball moved from batter's waist to ankles.
Lester's slider was a cross between a fastball and a curve, like a Labradoodle, and yet it was neither. It was called a "nickel curve," years ago, because it wasn't worth as much as a curve. It was a cheap imitation, like a fake Louis Vuitton handbag, but it was easier to make work than a curve. Both sliders and cutters are essentially slip-pitch fastballs. They are thrown exactly like fastballs, and their break is determined by how they leave the pitcher's hand. A slider is thrown like a football, with the ball held off-center, with a stiff wrist. It breaks later, sharper, and smaller than a curve, maybe six-to-eight inches, when it's 10 feet from the plate.
The one thing Lester and Wainwright had in common was that as veterans, they worked quickly. No fidgeting, adjusting their cap, pawing the dirt, stalling, what do I throw now? They don't have to think about it. They also don't pace themselves. They threw their best stuff from pitch one. Their game plan didn't change every three innings like some pitchers' (hard stuff early innings, breaking stuff middle innings, change-of-speed later innings if they get that far). The difference between them was that Lester had his best stuff, 95 mph fastball, 90 mph cutter, with pinpoint control. Wainwright's high fastball was too high and not sharp at 91 mph, and his curveball didn't have its usual camel's hump. It just rolled toward the plate like a neon sign, all bright colors, spelling out to the batters, "Hit me! Hit me! Oh, please hit me!"
In Boston's bottom half of the first, with runners on first and second and one out, Ortiz came to bat. Wainwright threw him a good curveball that Ortiz grounded to second base, a potential double play to end the inning, except that Matt Carpenter's flip to shortstop Pete Kozma was fumbled and dropped. Bases loaded. The second base umpire, however, called the runner at second out. He claimed that Kozma had dropped the ball in the transition from glove to throwing hand. Almost immediately, all the umpires convened in a huddle. The call was reversed, all runners safe.
McCarver then intoned, "If they overrule that call, it opens a Pandora's Box." Presumably he meant that now umpires will overrule each other constantly, not a likely scenario. A thought must have trudged across McCarver's brow just then, because he corrected himself and said, "And yet, the umpires eventually got it right." Like a good lawyer, McCarver managed to take both sides of a controversial issue with an expert's authority. (Later in the game, Rosenthal and his bow tie interviewed Joe Torre, MLB's executive VP of baseball operations, who explained that the umpires don't huddle up after a call unless they get a sign from one of their own that they need help.) The next batter, Mike Napoli, ripped a high slider off the left field wall to clear the bases.
In the Cards' second, Lester fanned two with his cutter and got a groundout to end the inning. In the Sox half, Stephen Drew hit a low popup to the pitcher's mound to start the inning. Cards catcher Yadier Molina called for it, but Wainwright threw up his arms as if signaling that he would get it. They both froze and the ball dropped between them for a single. Ordinarily a pitcher is told always to let his fielders catch popups if they can, but this was an instance when it made no sense for Molina to try to run to the mound, his catcher's gear bouncing on his body, the ball bouncing in his vision, to catch a ball on the run that would have been an easier catch for a stationary pitcher.
The next batter, David Ross, blooped a single over second. After Jacoby Ellsbury flied out, Shane Victorino hit a ground ball to Kozma's right, which he bobbled for his second error in two innings. Bases loaded again. Dustin Pedroia singled in one run with a grounder under the glove of third baseman David Freese, which he should have caught. By this time, the Red Sox were ahead 4-0, on two errors and two hits that should have been called errors. Big Papi followed with a line drive off a hanging slider, which was heading over the rightfield fence until Carlos Beltran lunged at it, bruising his ribs and half falling into the Sox bullpen. He caught it, limiting the Sox to only one run, but he bruised his ribs badly enough to be taken out of the game.
The score was now 5-0, Sox, and for all intents and purposes the game was over. Lester was carving up the Cards with his cutter, which may or may not have been embellished with a substance inside his glove. The TV camera caught Lester rubbing his first two fingers against that substance, but neither the umpires, the Cards or anyone else seemed to notice.
Wainwright was lifted after the fifth inning and replaced by a succession of relievers, three of whom were hard throwers with high-90s fastballs: John Axford, Kevin Siegrist and Carlos Martinez. Siegrist, a smooth-throwing lefty, relieved Seth Maness, a sinkerball righty, in the seventh, particularly to pitch to another lefty, Big Papi, with a runner on base (naturally via an error by Freese). Siegrist's first pitch was a 96 mph fastball that Big Papi turned on and drove over the right-centerfield wall, 7-0 Sox. Oh, well, another Cardinal Rule of Baseball bites the dust: Lefty hitters can't hit lefty pitchers.
Game 2, Boston
During the pregame show, Reynolds played video of Lester rubbing his two fingers against a substance in his glove. Lester had said after the game that the substance was just resin, as in the resin bag on the mound. Then why did he have to secret it in his glove? Nobody asked him that. In fact, no umpires checked his glove during the game, and none of Fox's crack TV analysts mentioned it, until Reynolds did the following night. By then, the mystery substance was a tempest in a teapot, since Lester promised not to put it in his glove anymore, whatever "it" was. It was too late for the umpires to find out, and nobody else much seemed to care.
Pierzynski, that evil son of Chucky, commented on the BoSox starting pitcher John Lackey, who, he said, had reinvented himself as an overhand curveball pitcher, no small accomplishment at 35. Lackey has also been trying to reinvent himself as something of a good guy, after all the bad press he has received since signing a five-year, $82 million contract following the 2009 season. He reportedly was one of the beer-swilling, chicken-eating pitchers in the clubhouse who had hastened Terry Francona's demise in Boston. For that, he was called the Most Hated Player in Boston in 2012. He then upped his game and became The Most Hated Man in Baseball when he divorced his wife of three years, Krista, after she got breast cancer and had a double mastectomy. Pierzynski is a veritable choirboy compared to Lackey. Pierzynski is hated by opponents because of the ferocity of his play, which is why he's still highly sought after as a catcher at the age of 36. (Pierzynski was signed by the Red Sox after the Series, which should make for an interesting dugout, featuring the two most hated players in the game.)
Erin Andrews and her hair roamed the field looking for a narrative, until she came upon Mike Napoli and his beard, and the two struck up a conversation about hair. After they beat the Sox beard chestnut, Denis Leary, the red-haired actor, came on the screen for a riff. Leary, McCarver, O'Brien? What's with all the red-haired Irishmen, I thought, until I realized, of course, an appeal to Boston Irish. Leary picked up on the beard narrative as the reason why the Cards were the guys your moms wanted you to go out with (presumably, he meant those moms' daughters, although who knows these days?), while the BoSox, with their threatening beards, were the guys your moms warned you against. Not content to reheat just one stale narrative, Leary then donned his "Boston Strong!" cap.
Finally, Sweet Baby James Taylor was trotted out to sing the National Anthem. Taylor is a shadow of his former folk-rock self from the '60s, but aren't we all? Skinny and bald, his long, page-boy hair a distant memory. His voice, too. He began talking the lyrics rather than singing them, which actually was a smart move since he was talking the lyrics to "America The Beautiful", until he got his wits about him and segued into the National Anthem.
* * *
Cardinals starter Michael Wacha, 22, was something of a late-season phenom. He won four games and lost one over multiple stints in the majors, and then went 3-0 in the first two postseason rounds. Now, after only 12 major league starts, he was starting the second game of the World Series against a hard-hitting veteran team. The conventional narrative should have been: Scared, green rookie wilts under Sox onslaught in front of 40,000 screaming fans, but that was not to be. Wacha's unfamiliarity with the BoSox lineup wasn't the point, but rather their unfamiliarity with his strange motion and unorthodox pitches.
Wacha essentially throws only two pitches, fastball and changeup, but at 6-foot-6, he throws both from a straight overhand delivery. The batter has to adjust not only to the speed of his 96 mph fastball, but also to its approaching angle. Same with his changeup, except that it is not like most other changeups. Most major league changeups move left-and-down or right-and-down as they approach the plate, their movement as deceiving as their declining speed. Wacha's change-up reaches the plate at a 90-degree angle and then drops even more. All of the above, coupled with Wacha's herky-jerky delivery, flapping arms and flying legs, all distinct parts rather than an integrated, harmonious whole, make him a very deceptive pitcher for batters who haven't faced him before. Still, Wacha is a one-trick pony with no good breaking ball. He works the plate up and down, not left-right-left, which is why he probably won't survive the majors once teams have faced him a few times, unless he picks up some kind of breaking ball, preferably a slider.
Lackey and Wacha matched goose eggs until the fourth inning. During the second inning, Andrews interviewed Wacha's parents in the stands. Wacha's mother said her son gets his "cool" from his father. "Whatever one does, the other does?" Andrews smiled. I waited for her follow-up question: What kind of things do they do together? Go hunting together, play golf together, hand out food at soup kitchens, day trade stocks, bird watch, smoke dope, sing in the church choir, protest at abortion clinics, play guitar in an acid rock band, watch movies on Lifetime while dabbing each other's moist eyes with tissues? Whatever? Any of these answers would have made father and son interesting to us.
But TV journalists tend to ask a subject a general question, then just pray they answer it in an interesting way. Print journalists never let a subject's answer just lie there like a sleeping puppy. They poke at it with more questions, until the furry little critter is performing the way they expect it to. Fetch that ball! If you poke enough, subjects will surprise you, and themselves, with the details they never knew they were capable of until the journalist drew them out. Am I being too hard on Andrews? I'm just holding her to the same professional standards that print journalists are held to. But TV journalists are held to different standards.
TV journalists seem to think the most penetrating question in their notebook is the old standby, "How do you feel?" As in "How do you feel after striking out with the bases loaded in the ninth inning of the last game of the World Series, in front of 50,000 home team fans who will now hate you forever, and your lovely fiancée sitting in the stands, her hands over her head to protect herself from all the cups of beer being thrown down on her, which is why she just announced to our sideline reporter that she had broken off her engagement to you because, quote, 'I don't want to be married to no loser.'" Answer: "Well, I put my pants on one leg at a time like everyone else." The smiling reporter then says, "Thank you for your insight," and cuts to a commercial, rather than following up with, "Yeah, well, Buster, you aren't getting paid $30 million a year just to put your pants on like everyone else. You get paid to hit a baseball when it counts, and when you don't, you answer questions like a man." Now that's an interview I'd like to see on TV.
But I digress. Both Lackey and Wacha were shutting down each other's hitters, Lackey with his good overhand curveball and slider, and Wacha with his 95 mph fastball and 85-87 mph change-up. In the second inning, Wacha threw Big Papi three straight change-ups until he grounded out. Wacha had four strikeouts after three innings, three on change-ups, one on a fastball.
In the top of the fourth, Matt Holliday hit one of Lackey's high, 92 mph fastballs off the centerfield wall for a triple. A shoulder-high fastball is an effective pitch when it's in the high 90s, close to the batter's eyes. It reminds him of God. But it's not so effective at Lackey's 92 mph. The score was still 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth when Pedroia walked with one out, and Wacha threw Big Papi one high change-up too many, which he deposited over the Green Monster, 2-1 Sox. Lackey took the mound in the top of the seventh with a 2-1 lead and fanned the first batter with a fastball. Then Freese walked, and Jon Jay singled him to second. Lackey's fastball was barely touching 90 mph by now. Sox manager John Farrell replaced him with lefty Craig Breslow. The Cards then proceeded to score three runs on one hit, a double steal, a walk and Breslow's throwing error, 4-2 Cards. And that's how it stayed when Cards' closer, Trevor Rosenthal, entered the game in the bottom of the ninth.
Rosenthal has the mound demeanor of an ice-cold hit man. He worked fast, as if he had something really important to attend to after this triviality. He showed an utter disdain for the three Red Sox batters he faced. He struck out Gomes on a 98 mph fastball. He struck out Jarrod Saltalamacchia on another 98 mph fastball. He ended the game by striking out Daniel Nava on a 99 mph fastball. Eleven pitches, nine strikes, all fastballs between 97-99 mph, without a splinter of wood touching any of them. Impressive! He reminded me of Goose Gossage. His greatest asset was not even that fastball. It was his disdainful attitude, which makes batters either intimidated or infuriated, which in either case is to his advantage. Rosenthal is scary!
Game 3, St. Louis
The pregame discussion was about how playing with National League rules would affect the outcome. Pierzynski got to the point right away, grinning his evil grin, and saying, "Well, it's going to be great for the fans to see all those pitchers on both teams bunting the ball." The Sox pitcher was Jake Peavy, a journeyman on the downswing of a career at 32, his once-96 mph fastball now hovering around 91, his once-biting slider as flat as a city diner pancake. Peavy still pitched as if he had his once-great stuff, which was both heartbreaking to watch and somehow admirable, like a little bulldog who won't accept that he's overmatched. His counterpart for the Cards was Joe Kelly, 25, another one of their young flamethrowers. Watching him, I thought he was the real pitching prospect, not the more acclaimed Wacha.
Kelly retired the side in order in the top of the first, his fastball hitting 96-98 mph. Peavy was not so lucky. Four of the first five batters he faced singled, scoring two runs. It was sad to watch Peavy trying to throw fastballs out of some distant memory, overthrowing, his right leg swinging wildly on his follow-through. At one point, when Peavy had runners on base, McCarver wondered why he was throwing curveballs when he could get more double plays with a sinker. Well, yes and no. You can get a double-play ball with any down-moving pitch, slider, curve, change-up or sinker. All right! I admit it! I am picking nits! But McCarver's pedantic droning brings out the worst in me. It's like listening to Bob Woodward explain in great detail his research methods for yet another 1,000-page tome on our government. You get glassy-eyed, stoned, hypnotized, and by the time you shake your head and wake up, the inning is over, 2-0 Cards.
In the Cards' fourth, Peavy got out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam and walked off the mound like the cock of the walk, chest puffed out, arms swinging, strutting like a bully spoiling for a fight. He had done his job, kept the Sox in the game for four innings until their hitters began to figure out Kelly. Xander Bogaerts, Boston's 21-year-old infielder from Aruba, opened the fifth with a triple off the centerfield wall, on an off-speed pitch, and later came around to score, 2-1 Sox. In the sixth, with Pedroia up, Buck wondered how much longer Cardinals manager Mike Matheny would go with Kelly. McCarver piped in, saying authoritatively that this would be Kelly's last batter. When Pedroia lined out sharply to third, Matheny immediately replaced Kelly with the veteran lefty Randy Choate, who looked like a Sunday beer-league pitcher. McCarver seemed to have been prescient, but it didn't take a brain surgeon to know that with Big Papi up after Pedroia, Kelly was a goner no matter what Pedroia did. McCarver didn't explain this, preferring to let the listener think he brilliantly had predicted it.
The Red Sox tied it in the eighth off of Carlos Martinez, the Cards' 22-year-old Dominican with the 98 mph fastball and sharp slider. Buck expounded on his narrative that Martinez was now in trouble because "he'd never pitched in three games in a row before." Well, yeah, but we're not talking Iron Man McGinty here. Martinez had pitched three innings over the first two games, and then, after a travel day, he had pitched one-third of an inning in this game. Now, after giving up one hit, he was supposedly exhausted from all his pitching. To understand how annoying Buck and McCarver are, you have to watch them over a concentrated number of games. When you watch them once a week, you tend to suspend your disbelief at their works of fiction. But after six games in eight days, the reality of what they are saying is unavoidable.
In the bottom of the eighth, apropos of nothing, McCarver blurted out the verbal gem of the series: "This Red Sox team is teeming with team players." I was in awe! Humbled! In 50 years of banging on a manual typewriter, I had never come up with such an alliterative gem. Of course, I had to Google that sentence, which I learned was a "literary stylistic device" along the lines of "Peter's piglet pranced priggishly." I did, however, dismiss the content, a cliché that had no meaning. Why and how were the BoSox "teeming with team players?" Does that mean they were closer teammates than the Cards? How did that affect their play? Which teammates helped Big Papi drive his home run over the Green Monster? Gibberish.
You may recall how the game ended in the bottom of the ninth. Koji Uehara pitching for the Sox with one out, Yadier Molina on first. Allen Craig, limping on a bad leg, pinch-hits a double to left, Molina to third. Jon Jay up. The Sox play in on the grass for a play at the plate. Jay hits a shot at Pedroia, who fires home to Saltalamacchia, who tags Molina for out No. 2 at the plate. Then, Salty, seeing Craig limping toward third, fires a ball past the outstretched arms of Middlebrooks, who dives for it and lands flat on his face in the dirt. The ball goes into left field. Craig, who had slid into third, tries to get up to run home. Middlebrooks raises his legs at his knees, tripping Craig. Craig struggles to his feet and hobbles home, where Nava's throw from left field is waiting for him in Salty's glove. End of inning.
Not so fast. The home plate umpire calls Craig safe, because Middlebrooks obstructed him at third. Cards win, 5-4. McCarver explains that on a fielder's obstruction call, "Intent does not matter," a good insight. No one, however, talked about Salty's lousy throw to third, which was the real reason the limping Craig scored.
After the game, Andrews interviewed Holliday of the Cards. She had her narrative prepared. She asked him if he could ever remember a World Series game ending on such a controversial call by an umpire. Holliday, a baseball player, not a journalist, looked at her without expression and said, "That's all part of the game." Andrews then said, "I see! You're talking about the glory of baseball in its infinite mystery and happenstance, a game of unfathomable possibilities that we can never anticipate, and so must accept as part of the game." OK, just kidding. Andrews didn't say that. But she should have.
Game 4, St. Louis
The pregame chatter began with Reynolds, somehow infected with McCarveritis, saying, "The obstruction call was the biggest play in World Series history." Oh, Harold! You disappoint me! Like McCarver, are you becoming too distant from the game, too close to TV journalism? Luckily, Rollins, still close to the game, put it all in perspective when he said softly, "A lot of things went wrong in that game, and a lot went right." Le Fils de Chucky piped up that no one likes to see such a game end on a technicality rather than on physical performance, but hey, c'est la vie! (Well, Le Fils de Chucky didn't exactly put it like that, but he meant that.)
McCarver and Buck presented this fourth game's narrative: Is BoSox starting pitcher Clay Buchholz a quitter? Buchholz had been complaining about a dead arm at the end of the season, and it was rumored that he tried to beg out of this game. McCarver said, "People in New England want to know what kind of Buchholz they're getting today: the pitcher who went 12-1 during the season, or the one who was just OK [recently]." Buck chimed in, calling Buchholz "enigmatic." Cardinals starter Lance Lynn had his own problems, being perceived as a pitcher whose emotions get in the way of his pitching. Game 4, then, would be a game in which both managers were forced to use their Peck's Bad Boys as a last resort.
In the top of the first, Ellsbury had barely stepped into the batter's box before Buck again brought up the game's narrative, saying that Lynn had a tough time channeling his emotions on the mound, and the "Red Sox can get under his skin." How, exactly, I wondered? By sticking their tongues out at him in the dugout? By mooning him at the plate? By shouting out, "Liar, liar, pants on fire?" Buck did not clarify.
By the Cards' half of the first, it became obvious that Buchholz was right about his dead arm. His once-95 mph fastball on this day was hovering between 87 and 89 mph. He looked like a dying man on the mound, spectrally thin, graveyard pallor, long, greasy hair like a corpse from The Walking Dead. He fidgeted a lot, mostly with his hair. He ran his pitching hand through his greasy hair, and then he threw fastballs that moved left and right or up and down. As with Lester and the resin in his glove, no one bothered to question Buchholz about the substance in his hair that he was running his hand through.
In Boston's second, Big Papi beat out an infield hit. At the age of 37, his baserunning this Series was a wonder. He has lost a lot of weight the last few years. He claims he went on a complex Dominican diet which, presumably, did not include PEDs. Even his bat was quicker (he hit almost .700 in this Series), which makes him one of the few (alleged) PED users to elevate his game by going off PEDs.
Koji Uehara came on in the ninth to close the game out, with the Sox up 4-2. He's not much to look at as a pitcher. He looks like a Little Leaguer, with his baby face, holding up his big yellow glove to conceal the scared look in his eyes. He takes a lot of deep breaths between pitches, then exhaling through puffed cheeks as if trying not to hyperventilate. He looks overmatched, with stuff that is less than impressive, an 88 mph fastball and nice split-finger sinker. Yet when he became the Sox closer this year, he was lights-out unhittable. He saved 21 games and posted a 1.09 ERA. Even more shocking, he fanned 101 batters in 74 1/3 innings and gave up just 33 hits. I couldn't believe it, so I leaned forward in my chair to watch him more carefully on TV. What I saw was a pitcher whose 88 mph fastball resembled Greg Maddux's. It moved in on right-handers and away on lefties. He had almost pinpoint control with that pitch. He walked nine batters all year. And his sinker broke so much that it was almost a breaking ball.
Uehara got an out with an 82 mph sinker, then Allen Craig lined a single to right off a fastball, which should have been a double if he could run. Kolten Wong pinch-ran for Craig. Carpenter popped out to Pedroia. Beltran up. Uehara went into his stretch, then suddenly fired to first base to pick off Wong. Oh, the indignity for a rookie! To break two of the Cardinal Rules of Baseball in one play! Try never to make the last out in a close game, and certainly not by being picked off. Beltran stared at first base as if stunned, unable to move, the bat on his shoulder. Uehara jumped up and down laughing, like a kid, as if to say, "Wow, look what I did? I can't believe it! Cool!" Game over, 4 -2 Sox, the Series tied at two-all.
Andrews interviewed Jonny Gomes, who was hitting .100 for the Series and was so frustrated that, when he hit the (eventual) game-winning home run, he flung his bat in disgust at himself. "Finally!" he must have been thinking. Andrews, smiling, said, "What about you, picking your spot to hit that home run?" Gomes looked at her in disbelief. Did she mean that he was so clever as to lull the Cards into complacency with his miserable batting average, just so he could "pick his spot" to hit a game-winning home run? It was a lazy question, as if she were congratulating him instead of trying to find out how he had turned around his miserable Series on one pitch. Was it a fastball? Was he looking for it? Had he done something differently this at-bat? Anything but that congratulatory "Wow!"
Game 5, St. Louis
This was a rematch between Lester and Wainwright. In Boston's top of the first, Wainwright looked sharp, striking out three batters looking at his big curve. But he also hung a curve to Pedroia for a double, and then Big Papi doubled him home, 1-0 Sox. In Boston's second, Wainwright struck out three batters swinging, two on his big curve. Lester, meanwhile, was less obtrusively shutting the Cards down until the fourth inning, when Holliday tied the game with a 423-foot home run to center off a 94 mph fastball. Lester likes to jam right-handers and pitch away to lefties, but this fastball to Holliday was right down the middle.
The game moved briskly. Two veterans, no wasting time. They got the ball and threw it. In the fifth, Lester got Craig to ground out on an inside cutter, fanned Freese and then jammed Kozma with another cutter, which he popped out to first. McCarver intoned, "Sandy Koufax once said, 'Show me a guy who pitches inside, and I'll show you a loser.'" But he never explained what Koufax meant, if he ever did say such a ridiculous thing. Did he mean that any pitcher who only throws to one spot is a loser? McCarver caught Bob Gibson for years, and nobody threw inside as often as Gibson did. Sometimes McCarver's cryptic comments are so perplexing, you wonder whether he's trying to make you think, or just doesn't know or care what he's saying.
In Boston's sixth, after Pedroia fouled out on a hanging curve, Big Papi and his ridiculous .769 Series batting average came to the plate. Everything the Cards threw at him, he hit. So Carpenter slowed down his motion, almost pausing it, to throw off Papi's timing. After two such motions, he sped up his motion. Still, Papi hit the ball hard, a lineout to center, and then Wainwright fanned Gomes swinging. Buck said, "These two aces have restored order to the Series." Buck was talking about both teams' shoddy fielding and miscues, like Wong's pickoff in Game 4. Buck began enumerating these mistakes, which McCarver punctuated by muttering after each one, "turnover," "turnover," "turnover."
In Boston's seventh, Wainwright faced David Ross, who was hitting below the Mendoza line. Wainwright threw him a wicked curveball, inside, at Ross's ankles. Ross golfed it over third for a ground-rule double, scoring one runner and sending another one to third. McCarver said that Ross hit a "hanging curve," which it wasn't. It was a wicked curve that somehow Ross managed to rifle over third, the kind of pitch most batters would have missed or laid off. Why did Ross hit it? Who knows? Every hit is not explainable as a pitcher's mistake or a batter's prowess. Some are just luck, accidents, a mystery.
With a runner on third, Lester grounded out to the pitcher, and Ellsbury stepped up at bat. Matheny didn't even go to the mound. Ellsbury blooped a single to center, and the third run scored, 3-1 Sox. After chewing on these events for a while, Buck finally wondered why Matheny had elected to stay with Wainwright. Possibly because Wainwright had struck out Ellsbury twice already. The conventional wisdom was that this was a mistake by Matheny, not bringing in a lefty to face the lefty Ellsbury, but Matheny had already been burned by his bullpen a few times in this Series. In Boston's eighth, Big Papi beat out another infield hit. The man is a marvel! In the Cards' eighth, Freese lined one of Lester's few fat cutters, down the middle of the plate, into right field for a double. McCarver called it "a good pitch." As good as Wainwright's curve to Ross? Was I watching the same game as McCarver? Was anybody, for that matter?
Farrell yanked Lester for Uehara, who then fanned Matt Adams, a lefty lowball hitter. Uehara threw him three straight low sinkers and struck him out. Go figure. Uehara got another three outs in the bottom of the ninth without a sweat, but with a huge smile on his face. Uehara looked like pitching in The Bigs was more fun than he ever could have imagined. The guy actually smiles on the mound when he does something right. Some of his American counterparts, especially his dour teammates, should take a lesson from him and guys like the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera actually smiles at the pitcher and nods his approval when the pitcher throws a fastball by him. The guy's a gentleman. Why not? He realizes how lucky he is. Cabrera and Uehara started playing the game because it was fun. It's never stopped being fun for them, as it has for so many big leaguers.
Game 6, Boston
Tonight's game is a replay of Game 2, Wacha against Lackey. Except it isn't. Lackey doesn't have his best stuff this night. And Wacha, well, the Red Sox have now seen him before. The game will be all but over in the fourth inning. Struggling once more for a narrative, Buck says, "Only once in history has a team won the World Series after finishing in last place the year before." It has also been 95 years, he reminds us, since the Red Sox won the final game of a World Series in front of their fans at Fenway Park. The boys in the booth must be getting desperate for narratives now. Someone mentions that the Cards' plane to Boston yesterday was delayed, and they arrived late to their hotel. Would this affect their play tonight? It is a momentous, grasping-at-straws question.
Lackey gets in trouble in the second, giving up two hard-hit singles with no outs. Then he gets lucky. Adams hits a line drive to the Green Monster, which Gomes catches with his back against the wall. The next batter, Freese, gets a hanging curveball with that neon sign on it, "Hit me! Hit me! Oh, please hit me!" He does, popping it up to rightfield. With runners on second and third, Jay strikes out on a curveball in the dirt. Wacha, meanwhile, strikes out two in the first, sandwiched around a walk to Big Papi, and in the second gives up a bloop single and a walk with no outs. He retires the side on two foul fly balls and a strikeout. McCarver intones, "You hear a lot about clutch hitters, but it's just as important to pitch well in the clutch as it is to hit well." I scream at my TV, "No s---, Timmy!"
Lackey gets through the third, scoreless, and then Wacha takes the mound. Ellsbury singles to right, Pedroia advances him to second on a groundout, and Big Papi steps up. Wacha intentionally walks him, Papi's second walk of the game. Matheny is determined that the Big Guy will not beat him this game. Why should he? Matheny has a host of Red Sox hitters to pitch to who aren't even hitting above .200: Napoli, Gomes, Victorino, Drew, Ross. Napoli obliges him by striking out on a 94 mph fastball. Wacha only needs one more out. He hits Gomes with a fastball to load the bases. But no fear. Victorino is up, with his bad back and his Series average lower than his weight, and he's not a big guy. So Victorino rips a fastball off the Green Monster for a bases-clearing double. Sox up, 3-0.
The bottom of the fourth begins with Drew up. He too is hitting below .100 for the Series. So what does he do? He hits Wacha's first-pitch fastball over the fence in right-center. Sox, 4-0. Wacha's 97 mph fastball of the previous game, and of the first inning of this game, is now hovering around 93 mph. By the end of his second time facing the Sox, Wacha's line score is 3.2 IP, 5 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 7.45 ERA. Of course, that's only after Lynn, following in the line of previous Cardinals relievers, gives up two hits and a walk. His first batter is Napoli, who has already fanned twice. Naturally, Napoli hits a soft single to score Ellsbury. 5-0, Sox. Buck says, "Napoli lost a Series to the Cards when he was in Texas, and he vowed that would never happen again." Did Napoli tell Buck that? And is that why he took a page from Gomes' book, lulling the Cardinal pitchers into complacency with his two previous strikeouts? Just so they'd lay one in there when it counted, so he could redeem himself? Despite their stupid beards, these Red Sox are very clever.
Lynn walks Gomes to load the bases, then Victorino hits a single to left, scoring Ortiz on Holliday's throw, which is maybe 10 feet off the plate to the third-base side. McCarver says, "That was a good throw by Holliday, to keep the second runner from scoring." No, it wasn't Timmy. It was a terrible throw. Someone must have told McCarver to take a look at his monitor, because he comes back on his mic and says, well, maybe the throw wasn't that good after all, but "it was a strong throw," which is as close as McCarver will ever get to admitting that he has made a wrong call.
The Cards finally get to Lackey for a run in the seventh. After he gets two outs, Lackey gives up three straight hits, now 6-1, Sox, and Farrell goes to the mound to take him out. Lackey convinces Farrell to leave him in and proceeds to throw a wild pitch. He walks Holliday. Now Farrell yanks him for Tazawa, and Lackey storms into the dugout screaming obscenities to show what a gamer he is, and to try to expunge his image as one of the beer-swilling, chicken-stuffing pitchers who helped get Francona fired.
The game ends, as most Boston games have ended this year ever since Uehara became their closer, with the baby-faced pitcher striking out Carpenter and then jumping up and down and then laughing, until Big Papi throws him over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carries him around the field. The Cards, to uphold a baseball tradition, sit in the dugout and watch their adversaries celebrate. Why? I never understood that. To make themselves suffer more? Geez, if I had played as badly as the Cards did this Series, I'd get the hell out of Fenway as fast as I could, find the first bar where I could drink myself into oblivion and forget the whole damned thing.
As expected, David Ortiz, at 37, is voted the World Series MVP, with his .688 batting average, 2 home runs and 6 RBIs. But don't forget the little guys, who defied baseball orthodoxy and were the real reason the Sox won. Drew, Gomes, Napoli, Ross, Victorino and Nava drove in 16 of the 27 runs the Red Sox scored, and not one of them batted higher than .158 for the Series. Which just goes to show you: What?
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Pat Jordan is a freelance writer living in Abbeville, S.C. He is the author of A False Spring and 10 other books, and has written for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Harper's, Sports Illustrated, Playboy, GQ, Rolling Stone, Men's Journal and many others.