Archive for October 13th, 2010

The St. Louis Cardinals spent most of 1985 outrunning just about everyone and everything on a baseball field. In total, the Redbirds swiped 314 bags (this year, the Rays led the majors with 172 steals), but the centerpiece of the team’s running attack was a rookie outfielder named Vince Coleman, who stole a remarkable 110 bases in 135 attempts, a mark that remains the third highest total in major league history.

Vince Coleman lays in pain after being run over by an automated tarp before game 4 of the 1985 NLCS.

Over the first two games of the 1985 NLCS, however, the Los Angeles Dodgers managed to shut down the Cardinals’ speed-based offense, as Mike Scioscia gunned down three of four attempted base stealers, including Coleman. In game three, the Cardinals finally found their legs, using three stolen bases to score four runs and get on the board in the series. Despite the previous night’s victory, however, the Cardinals hopes for the pennant took a major hit before game four, thanks to one of the most bizarre injuries to ever occur on a baseball field.

October 13, 1985 was an overcast day in St. Louis. While the Cardinals were warming up before the game, it started to rain lightly, but nothing serious enough to put the evening’s game in jeopardy. One by one, the St. Louis players made their way back to the clubhouse, and included among them was Coleman. Before exiting the field, however, Coleman turned around to toss his glove to coach Dave Ricketts just as a button was pushed to activate the Busch Stadium automated tarpaulin. At over one-half ton and 180 feet in length, the “killer tarp”, as it would become known, arose from beneath the ground on the first base side of home plate and headed toward Coleman. Before the fleet footed centerfielder realized the impending danger, it was too late. Something had finally caught up to Vince Coleman.

“It kept going. When it hit his ankle, he went down. It went up over his knee. He screamed. He was in extreme pain. It must have been three seconds when a bunch of Cardinals players got there and lifted it off him.” – Los Angeles Dodgers bat boy Howard Hughett quoted by the Associated Press, October 14, 1985

An AP picture shows the level of pain in Coleman's expression as he is tended to on the field (Photo: AP).

The overriding theme in all of the first hand accounts of the incident was the extent of the pain Coleman expressed in his screams. Cardinals’ third baseman Terry Pendleton stated, “I was just turning around [when] I heard this scream and the thing just swallowed him up,” while part timer Mike Jorgensen ironically figured that the grounds crew hadn’t been able realize what had happened because of all the screaming.

After the incident, initial examinations revealed no permanent damage, allowing Coleman to joke “I just don’t want to be charged with a caught stealing for this.” After a further examination, however, no one would be laughing. X-rays eventually revealed a small bone fracture in Coleman’s left knee, ending the speedster’s season.

Despite being widely viewed as a major setback, the Cardinals evened up the NLCS with a 12-2 blowout of the Dodgers, thanks in large part to Coleman’s replacement, Tito Landrum, who went 3-4 with three RBIs. St. Louis then went on to finish off the series with two last inning homers by Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark in games five and six. Ironically, just as the Cardinals lost their speed, they found their power, much to the dismay of Tom Niedenfuer, the Dodgers’ reliever who surrendered both game winning blasts.

The Cardinals eventually went on to lose the World Series to the Kansas City Royals in seven games, but not because they lost Vince Coleman. After compiling an .895 OPS in the NLCS, Landrum followed with a .920 OPS in the Fall Classic. Unfortunately for St. Louis, the combination of a bad umpire’s call in game six along with a anemic offensive performance (only Landrum had an OPS above .737 in the series) transpired to end their season as runners up.

The 1985 post season was an odyssey for the St. Louis Cardinals. The team encountered improbable victory in game 5 of the NLCS, when Ozzie Smith belted a game winning homer (his first left handed round tripper in 3,009 at bats), but then suffered ignominious defeat when umpire Don Denkinger’s missed call in the ninth inning of game six opened the door for the Royals to win the series. Nothing, however, was more strange than what took place on October 13…the day the most instrumental part of the Cardinals’ running game was rundown himself by a Killer Tarp.

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One of the ramifications of having to use Cliff Lee twice in the ALDS is the Rangers now can not pitch their ace against the Yankees until game three of the ALCS. As a result, the Rangers will need to rely on CJ Wilson and Colby Lewis to get the series off to a good start before unveiling Lee at Yankee Stadium.

Although being forced to hold Lee back until the series shifts to New York is a definite disadvantage, it could turn out to be a blessing in disguise if the Rangers can take one of the first two games of the series. Unfortunately for the Rangers, both pitching matchups will favor the Yankees, so getting a game at home could prove to be a difficult task. Should they be able to accomplish it, however, the formula for victory becomes clear: win one of the first two games, both of Lee’s starts and then beat AJ Burnett.

It is very likely that the Yankees will go with C.C. Sabathia in games one, four and seven (the last two on three day’s rest) and hand the ball to Andy Pettitte in games two and six, leaving one game a piece for Phil Hughes and AJ Burnett. It would be easy for the Yankees to simply “go in order” and have Hughes pitch game 3 and Burnett pitch game 5, but that could actually be playing right into the Rangers’ hands.

The idea of conceding game three to Cliff Lee by going with AJ Burnett has been kicked around, but that logic fails because you simply can not give away games in a short series. However, that doesn’t mean Burnett isn’t the one who gives the Yankees the best chance to win that game. As the old adage goes, the best way to beat an ace pitcher is to oppose him with one of your own. Obviously, no is going to mistake AJ Burnett for an ace, but at the same, just about everyone would acknowledge that he can pitch like one at any time.

Inconsistency has always been a Burnett hallmark, but in 2010 he trended even more greatly toward the lesser extreme. Of his 33 total starts, Burnett posted a game score below 35 in exactly one-third. On the flip side, he had 10 starts with a game score above 60, including five above 70. So, going on the assumption that Burnett is either going to pitch very well or very poorly, what should the Yankees do?

Cliff Lee’s average game score in 2010 was 60, but his median tally was 70, so the question becomes who is most capable of matching him: Burnett or Hughes? Although Hughes has been much more consistent and far less prone to having blow-up games, he has only topped a game score of 70 on three occasions. On that basis, Burnett seems to be the best option in game three. However, there is more to consider.

Even if you accept that Burnett is more likely than Hughes to pitch a great game, that doesn’t mitigate the risk of a stinker. However, the same would also be true if he was to start game five. Now, the question becomes, in what game would an AJ Burnett implosion be most damaging? The most obvious answer seems to be game five.

If the Yankees go with Hughes in game three and lose a low scoring game to Lee, the series could then hinge on the efforts of Burnett in game five. With C.J. Wilson pitching that game, the Yankees’ offense would presumably have a much greater say in the outcome, but if Burnett were to have one of his awful outings, it would be rendered moot. On the other hand, if Burnett was tapped for game three, not only would the Yankees have a better chance of matching Lee, but they would have much less risk heading into what could be a pivotal fifth game.

Another thing to consider is that if Hughes is scheduled for game five, he could be available for an inning in one of the first two games, which would follow a formula that has seemed to work well for him. Otherwise, his game three start would come on nine full days of rest, and Hughes has seemed to lose command under such circumstances. 

Obviously, if the Yankees are not planning to go with Sabathia in three games, the equation changes. In that scenario, it would be more beneficial to have Hughes go earlier in the series so he could be ready to pitch a second game if needed. That doesn’t seem to be in the plans, however. Judging by Joe Girardi’s use of Sabathia in last year’s ALCS and World Series, it seems almost a given that the big lefty will work on three days rest. As a result, the best way to win the series and beat Cliff Lee could center on AJ Burnett, which probably isn’t how Brian Cashman figured it when he tried to acquire the Rangers’ ace back in July. Or, then again, maybe that’s exactly why he was so intent on getting him.

2010 Game Scores of Potential Game 3 and 5 Starters

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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