Free of the constricting and demanding responsibilities of following and attending the San Francisco Giants in the 2013 playoffs, I finally had a chance to look around and smell the rosin. (To me, it smells like Emilia Clarke's underwear drawer. Or what I imagine that might be.)
Anyway... where was I? Oh yeah, the Major League Baseball 2013 post season. It has been a tremendous and contentious October with surprises, disappointments, and spectacular plays. And that's just the Oakland-Detroit Division Series.
You have to be impressed with what these playoff teams have accomplished just in making the post season.
And Giants fans take note: every playoff team won their spot in October despite having key players out with injuries, surviving losing streaks, and seeing other teams in their Division rise up and have moments of dominance.
I love watching Tampa Bay and Oakland-- both teams brilliantly put together and expertly managed by some very smart people. Too bad the A's and Rays were eliminated so early because their kind of baseball is fascinating to watch and deconstruct.
Also great to see upstart teams like Pittsburgh and Cleveland fighting their way from the bottom of the tuna can to victory and respectability.
Specifically, kudos to the Pirates for busting out of 20 consecutive sub-.500 seasons. And a tip of the cap to the Indians, who finished 68-94 in 2012, 80-82 in 2011, and 69-93 in 2010. Before going 92-70 this season. Welcome to both teams for climbing up to the top side of the Porto-potty.
Here are a few observations on the 2013 playoffs that I've managed to note down between glasses of the 2011 Mas Champart and brats smothered in thick, grainy German mustard (sorry, it's nearly dinner time):
My new favorite player.
Shortstop Jose Iglesias of the Detroit Tigers. Plucked from the Red Sox in August to replace the performance enhancing drug-using Jhonny Peralta, the amazing 23 year old Iglesias proceeded to set some 2013 records.
With only a mere 350 combined ABs with Boston and Detroit, Iglesias ended up leading all American League hitters with 35 infield hits. He came in second overall in AL bunt hits with 10.
In the ALDS with Oakland, Iglesias was a defensive spark plug at short. In Game 2 against Oakland, with Yoenis Cespedes at second base, Iglesias proceeded to create a moment of wonderful opera. As Cespedes started to take his lead from second, Iglesias slapped his glove, stomped his feet, and flapped his arms like he was moving to cover second base.
Cespedes repeatedly looked over his shoulder and darted back toward the bag. Then Iglesias scooped up some dirt and gravel and tossed it toward Cespedes' legs and barked at him to make the Oakland outfielder think twice about taking a big lead.
And when other Oakland A players got to second base, the Cuban shortstop went into his diversionary act all over again.
Jose Iglesias's exuberance is the kind of great baseball theater that maybe only a 23 year old can get away within the players' rigidly enforced rules of on-field behavior.
It was the joyous, spontaneous actions of a young charged-up baseball player. And it was wonderful to watch.
My other new favorite player.
Anyone who watched third string Oakland A's catcher Stephen Vogt in the ALDS had that reaction where your heart pounds and you start to get something in your eye that requires a tissue. But for some reason you hide that from the other people in the room with whom you're watching the game.
The 28 year old Vogt is a lifetime minor league veteran. His ALDS Game 2 performance in Oakland last Saturday was likely his career highlight: throwing a runner out at second as part of a double play and delivering the game-winning single in the bottom of the 9th. Vogt got his first Major League hit this past June-- a home run.
This is why we watch baseball.
TBS announcer seeks clue.
TBS covered most of the Division Series playoffs on television and did a fairly good job with one painful exception. That would be TBS playoff analyst Buck Martinez, who came across like an old prospector that the TBS production crew ran into outside of Tucson and signed to a contract for a pack mule and a couple of pick axes.
Buck Martinez is a former MLB player from a long time ago. How long? When Martinez played the game fly balls were counted as strikes, there were five bases, and Philadelphia had seven Major League teams.
In the Oakland A's- Detroit series Martinez seemed to make up a lot of stuff as he went along. Every time a player got a hit or a pitcher did well I thought I heard him shout "Gold, gold!" In the final game between the Tigers and the A's, Martinez got on board the Justin Verlander-is-god express very early in the broadcast and it was tedious.
Every Verlander pitch was incredible, each Verlander pitch selection dropped from the sky from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Apparently nothing could stop this incredibly masterful magician from tossing a perfect game. Until Yoenis Cespedes singled to center in the 7th and Josh Reddick singled in the 8th.
Certainly Justin Verlander has been whatever happens when you turn off the light switch, putting up thirty consecutive scoreless innings against Oakland over four Division Series games the past two years. But when a sports broadcaster finds their story hook too early in a game, and then jumps up and down on it for two hours, the effect is painful.
As Martinez hurled forth, there was one bit of relevant information that he neglected to mention during the broadcast because it didn't fit into the story line: Justin Verlander was 13-12 during the regular season for the Detroit Tigers with a 1.31 WHIP and a 3.46 ERA.
The brightest manager in baseball. And the least talented manager in the game.
Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays is the 21st century template for a brilliant, thoughtful, and dynamic baseball manager. But he doesn't look it.
When you first see him Joe Maddon appears to be a crusty throwback from the 1960s: the weathered visage, close-cropped white hair, and gravelly voice suggest he just might be Buck Martinez's grandfather. Then Maddon talks baseball.
Maddon talking baseball is like falling into an amazing worm hole of baseball strategy and knowledge that can take your breath away. He's the guy in the movie who is able to think on a completely different level when aliens have attacked all the major cities of earth and something needs to be done.
Maddon's respect for the statistical and mathematic innovations that have added a fourth dimension to Major League Baseball over the past twenty years is well-known. But Maddon uses those tools, still considered voodoo by much of the baseball establishment, to build, deconstruct, rebuild, and manage his club on a daily basis.
Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon is a knight without armor in a savage land.
The least talented manager in baseball was fired three days after his team, the Cincinnati Reds, were eliminated from the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Pirates on October 1st.
Dusty Baker is the anti-Joe Maddon-- dismissive of "statistics", "trends", "game dynamics" and all that anti-baseball intellectual stuff. Baker likes to go with his "gut feeling" when managing and his "hunches" about players and situations.
And how has all that worked out for him? Not so bueno.
In the 2002 World Series Dusty Baker had his San Francisco Giants up three games to two over the (then) Anaheim Angels. In game #6 Baker removed starter Russ Ortiz in the 7th inning with the Giants leading 5-0. Baker handed Ortiz the "victory" ball as he walked off the mound. The Angels went on to win that game, and take game #7 to win the World Series.
Last season, Baker's Reds took the first two games from the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on the way to an apparent NLDS win. The Giants then went to Cincinnati and took three in a row to eliminate the Reds.
This October the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had posted 20 sub-.500 seasons before 2013, beat the Reds in the NL Wild Card playoff game.
Though I don't agree with his approach to managing, if Baker wants to get back in the game I certainly wish him well. But I wonder which forward-looking franchise will want to hire Dusty Baker as their next manager?