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Tonight’s World Series opens up in St. Louis because the National League won the 2011 All Star Game. For many in and around the game, linking home field advantage in October to an outcome in July is the height of folly, but this season at least, the symmetry is almost perfect.

Despite the Brewers being eliminated, Prince Fielder's impact on the World Series is still being felt.

In order to advance to the World Series, the Cardinals had to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, the team that currently employs Prince Fielder. As some might recall, it was Fielder’s three-run home run that propelled the National League to victory at the home ballpark of the Arizona Diamondbacks, who just so happened to be the victims of the Brewers in the NLDS. What does all this have to do with the American League champion Texas Rangers? Well, Fielder’s game changing blast was hit off C.J. Wilson, who will toe the rubber for the Rangers tonight in St. Louis, and the manager of the American League was none other than Texas’ Ron Washington.

Unfortunately, the lineage from All Star Game to World Series hasn’t always been as direct, but that doesn’t mean the idea of tying the two games together is as baseless as many seem to suggest. After all, before the midseason classic was first used to decide World Series home field in 2003, an alternating system existed. That’s why, for instance, the 85-win Minnesota Twins hosted the 95-win Cardinals in game 7 of the 1987 World Series. Perhaps more than any other Fall Classic, home field proved to be a decisive factor in that series, but you never hear anyone call into question the credibility of the Twins’ championship.

Baseball’s home field advantage determinant has been the subject of increased criticism this October because the 96-win division champion Rangers will be opening the series on the road against the 90-win wild card Cardinals. However, it should be noted that this is only the second time since 2003 that World Series home field has gone to the team with fewer wins in the regular season. In 2004, the 105-win Cardinals traveled to Fenway Park to open that year’s World Series against the 98-win Boston Red Sox, but otherwise, until this year, the team with the better record has enjoyed home cooking in October. Of course, after drawing the short end of the home field process in both 1987 and 2004, you can’t blame Cardinals’ fans if they refuse to apologize for having the opportunity to host this year’s World Series opener.

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Only days after being awarded the World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria was given a pink slip (Photo: AP).

When the Giants announced that they would not be picking up Edgar Renteria’s $9.5 million option for 2011, he became the second consecutive World Series MVP to find himself looking for work in the offseason. Although Renteria’s postseason heroics definitely put the Giants in an awkward position, the decision to cut him loose was really a no-brainer. It’s not easy being an unlikely hero with a lucrative team option.

Considering the performance of the Giants’ pitching staff, the selection of Renteria as World Series MVP has to qualify as one of the biggest surprises in the history of the award. So, with that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of the most improbable World Series heroes.

(Note: The World Series MVP award originated in 1955 and was originally voted upon by the editors of Sport magazine. In addition to a trophy, the honor also included a new car, which was a serious financial consideration in the era before large contracts. Today, the World Series MVP is voted upon by a larger pool of media members and officials, and includes a charitable contribution).

Edgar Renteria: 2010 World Series (Giants over Rangers, 4 games to 1)

2010 PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG
World Series 18 6 2 6 .412 .444 .765
Reg. Season 267 26 3 22 .276 .332 .707

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Background

At his best, no one would think twice about Edgar Renteria winning a World Series MVP. In his prime, he was a solid defensive SS with speed and an above average bat for the position. He also was the author of a walk-off World Series winning hit in 1997 as well as a strong .333/.412/.533 effort in the 2004 Fall Classic. In 2010, however, Renteria was coming off two awful seasons and by August had lost his job. Because of the poor defense of Pablo Sandoval, the Giants reinstalled Renteria at shortstop in the NLCS, but his offense showed no signs of a rejuvenation. Against the Phillies, Renteria hit .063/.118/.063 in 18 plate appearances. So, if the Rangers still don’t realize what hit them, you can easily see why.

Key Moments

Game 1: Solo HR in the bottom of the fifth, breaking a scoreless tie in a pitchers’ duel between Matt Cain and C.J. Wilson.
Game 5: Three-run HR in the top of the seventh against Cliff Lee. The blast provided the Giants with their only runs in the clincher.

 

David Eckstein: 2006 World Series (Cardinals over Tigers, 4 games to 1)

2006 PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG
World Series 23 3 0 4 .364 .391 .500
Reg. Season 552 68 2 23 .292 .350 .344

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Background

Scott Brosius celebrates game 3 HR off Trevor Hoffman in 1998 World Series.

Because of his size and less than impressive raw talent, most people in the baseball world doubted David Eckstein over his entire career. So, it really shouldn’t be a surprise to see him show up on a list like this. Still, despite having a very solid season in 2005, Eckstein’s 2006 campaign was more in line with the two disappointing years that ended his Angels’ career. What’s more, his production over the first two rounds of the playoffs was a less than inspiring .195/.244/.293. Nonetheless, with all eyes trained on the monstrous Albert Pujols, it was the diminutive Eckstein who took home the hardware. It should be noted, however, that with the Cardinals’ having a team OPS of .675 and no standout pitching performance in the series, Eckstein really won the MVP by default.

Key Moment

Game 4: Run scoring double in the eighth inning against hard throwing Joel Zumaya that provided margin of victory.

  

Scott Brosius: 1998 World Series (Yankees over Padres, 4 games to 0)

1998 PA R HR RBI BA OBP SLG
World Series 17 3 2 6 .471 .471 .824
Reg. Season 603 86 19 98 .300 .371 .472

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Background

In 1997, Scott Brosius had an OPS+ of 53 and WAR of -0.8, so when the Yankees acquired him in the offseason, it had many followers of the team scratching their heads. The Yankees must have seen something in Brosius because he responded with an outstanding campaign in the Yankees’ record setting 114-48 regular season. He also hit very well in both prior rounds of the playoffs, so his presence on this list really stems from the depths of his previous season as well as his presence in a lineup chock full of stars.

Key Moment

Game 3: Already trailing 2-0 in the series, the Padres had to win game three at home. So, when the first sign of trouble hit in the eighth inning, Bruce Boche immediately went to Trevor Hoffman, his dominant closer who had 53 saves in the regular season. After an out and a walk, Brosius sent a 2-2 changeup over the wall in center, catapulting the Yankees into the lead and setting the stage for a series sweep.

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If 2010 was the new “Year of the Pitcher”, than the outcome of the World Series was a fitting tribute. With a 3.36 ERA (121 ERA+), the Giants owned baseball’s best pitching staff in the regular season, yet still managed to shave off almost an entire run during October. If good pitching beats good hitting, just imagine what great pitching can do?

Most Games Allowing Fewer than 3 Runs in One Postseason, Since 1995

Team Year Total Games Matching Games Pct. W L
Braves 1996 16 13 81% 9 4
Cardinals 2006 16 12 75% 9 3
Yankees 2003 17 12 71% 8 4
Yankees 2001 17 12 71% 10 2
Diamondbacks 2001 17 12 71% 10 2
Giants 2010 15 11 73% 9 2
Yankees 1999 12 10 83% 10 0
Tigers 2006 13 10 77% 7 3
Indians 1995 15 10 67% 7 3
White Sox 2005 12 10 83% 9 1
Red Sox 2007 14 10 71% 10 0

Source: Baseball-reference.com

The 2010 Giants exhibited one of the better postseason pitching displays in recent memory, but was it really the best ever in divisional play as some have suggested? Not according to the chart above. Although the Giants’ staff did have more than its fair share of dominant games (defined as three or fewer runs allowed), five other teams actually had a higher percentage, and many of those games were played in a much higher offensive environment. So, from at least one perspective, the 2010 Giants do not stand out from the pack.

Postseason ERA, 1995-2010

Source: Baseball-reference.com

Based on overall ERA, the Giants’ pitching staff once again ranks among the top-10, but comes up well short of the 1996 Braves’ sterling 1.89 ERA. Ironically, despite posting what was by far the lowest team ERA in the division series era, the 1996 Braves actually lost the World Series to Joe Torre’s then underdog Yankees.

Top-10 Postseason ERAs By Team, 1995-2010

Year Team G IP W L ERA
1996 Braves 16 143 9 7 1.89
1999 Yankees 12 109 11 1 2.39
1995 Indians 15 139 9 6 2.40
2001 D’Backs 17 154 11 6 2.40
1998 Yankees 13 119 11 2 2.42
2010 Giants 15 135 11 4 2.47
2005 White Sox 12 113 11 1 2.55
2006 Cardinals 16 141 11 5 2.68
1995 Braves 14 130 11 3 2.70
2003 Yankees 17 155 9 8 2.73

Source: Baseball-reference.com

After factoring in context (graph and chart below), the 2010 Giants’ rank falls to seventh, albeit amid a tight pack of 12. Four teams, however, do emerge from the field. Once again, the 1996 Braves stand head and shoulders above the rest. Led by the likes of John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, Steve Avery and Greg Maddux, that staff outperformed all the others by a whopping 135%. Among teams that won the World Series, the 1999 Yankees pitched 89% better than the postseason field, while the 2005 White Sox were 66% stingier. Finally, joining the 1996 Braves as a dominant pitching staff that failed to win the World Series, the 1995 Indians had an ERA that was 79% lower than the competition. That season, the Indians lost to the Braves, who ranked just behind them on the list.

One thing evident from the list below (and probably self evident), is that in order to win the World Series you usually need to pitch. Ten of the 16 champions since 1995 have had an ERA at least 35% lower than the remaining playoff field, and only three teams that have accomplished that threshold failed to win the World Series. Furthermore, only two teams (the 1997 and 2003 Florida Marlins) managed to win the World Series while pitching to an ERA below the postseason average, and only five such teams were able to win the pennant. As a result, when a team wins a ring, it usually goes without saying that their pitching staff did very well.

World Series Participants’ ERA Compared to Total ERA*, 1995-2010 


*Postseason ERA excludes contribution of team being used in each comparison.
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Year Team IP ERA PS ERA* Ratio
1996 Braves 143    1.89 4.43 235%
1999 Yankees 109    2.39 4.54 189%
1995 Indians 139    2.40 4.29 179%
2005 White Sox 113    2.55 4.23 166%
1995 Braves 130    2.70 4.16 154%
1998 Yankees 119    2.42 3.58 148%
2010 Giants 135    2.47 3.62 147%
2007 Red Sox 126    3.29 4.76 145%
2006 Cardinals 141    2.68 3.86 144%
2001 D’Backs 154    2.40 3.34 139%
2003 Yankees 155    2.73 3.80 139%
2008 Phillies 123    3.07 4.15 135%
2009 Yankees 140 2/3 3.26 4.40 135%
1999 Braves 134 1/3 3.35 4.36 130%
2000 Mets 131 2/3 3.21 4.04 126%
2006 Tigers 113    2.95 3.70 126%
2000 Yankees 144    3.44 3.99 116%
2007 Rockies 99    4.00 4.49 112%
2004 Cardinals 132 1/3 4.42 4.92 111%
2004 Red Sox 133    4.47 4.91 110%
2002 Giants 149    4.59 4.92 107%
2009 Phillies 132    3.95 4.15 105%
2005 Astros 136 1/3 3.76 3.93 104%
2008 Rays 141 2/3 3.81 3.95 104%
1996 Yankees 141    3.70 3.84 104%
2002 Angels 140    4.82 4.84 100%
1998 Padres 124 1/3 3.33 3.32 100%
1997 Indians 165 2/3 3.97 3.81 96%
1997 Marlins 144    4.25 3.73 88%
2010 Rangers 141    3.70 3.23 87%
2001 Yankees 153 1/3 3.52 2.97 85%
2003 Marlins 159    4.30 3.35 78%

Note: World Series winners in italics.
*Postseason ERA excludes contribution of team being used in each comparison
Source: Baseball-reference.com

All things considered, the 1996 Braves remain as the most accomplished pitching staff in the division series era, even though they failed to accomplish the ultimate goal. Of course, this year’s Giants probably aren’t going to lose any sleep over taking a back seat to that Atlanta team. After all, the 1996 Braves would gladly trade the honor for a shiny new ring.

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New York fans get a bad rap around the country for being unruly (I am talking to you Mr. Greenberg), and sometimes the criticism is justified. Some spitting, a few thrown objects and even a fight or two have been known to breakout in the stands, but the one thing you’ve never seen is a riot. For some reason, sports championships have become justification for obscene civil disobedience in cities around the world, but not in the Big Apple. The rest of the world can have its bonfires and rock throwing; New Yorkers use tickertape.

The shameful behavior seen in the video below is really not an indictment of San Francisco, but a sad part of our nation’s sports culture. Maybe one day the rest of the country will follow New York’s lead and celebrate their sports’ championships with civility?

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Curly Ogden’s game seven start was really a ruse perpetrated by Senators’ manager Bucky Harris against his Giants' counterpart, John McGraw.

As mentioned in the previous post about Matt Cain’s somewhat historic World Series performance, the Giants’ right hander became only the fourth starter to have a scoreless World Series debut, but fail to throw a complete game. Two of the other pitchers, Juan Marichal and Orel Hildebrand, were forced to depart early because of injury, but the really interesting story deals with the other member of the fraternity: Warren Harvey “Curley” Ogden.

Curly Ogden was an unaccomplished young starter when he was acquired from the Philadelphia Athletics on May 23, 1924. Upon joining the Senators, however, Ogden became a meaningful contributor to the team’s pennant aspirations, going 9-5 with a 2.58 ERA in 108 innings. Nonetheless, once the World Series came around, Ogden wasn’t expected to see the light of day against John McGraw’s mighty New York Giants, who were appearing in their fourth consecutive Fall Classic.

The Senators rotation was led by the legendary Walter Johnson, but also featured the solid duo of George Mogridge and Tom Zachary. Even Firpo Marberry, a highly effective starter/reliever hybrid was ahead of Ogden on the rotation depth chart, so there really was little hope for him to make any kind of meaningful impact in the World Series.

Once game seven rolled around, however, Senators’ player/manager Bucky Harris made what seemed like a curious decision. Although Johnson and Zachary had each thrown nine innings in games 5 and 6, respectively, Harris still had Mogridge available for the finale. In his game four start, Mogridge limited the Giants to two runs over seven innings to help tie up the Series, so it seemed only natural that he would toe the rubber for the deciding seventh game. Instead, Harris went with the untested Ogden, who hadn’t so much as warmed up over the first six games.

The casualties of shell-ridden “pitchers’ hill” have been so heavy upon both baseball armies that the two generals will be compelled to put their fortunes up to the youths of virtually untried capacity in today’s deciding game.” – Associated Press, October 10, 1924, writing about the Virgil Barnes vs. Curley Ogden matchup slated for game seven of that year’s World Series.

Bill Terry was the impetus for Harris' odd strategy.

In reality, Harris had no intention of letting Ogden go very deep into the game. In fact, he didn’t intend to let him go past one batter. Perhaps eager to match wits with the legendary McGraw, who had won three championships and 10 pennants, the 27-year old Harris had planned to set a clever trap for the Little Napolean, and Ogden was the bait. You see, the Giants were a prolific 73-45 against right handers, but managed to go only 20-15 against southpaws. And, in the center of the Giants’ of lineup was a young left handed hitter named Bill Terry, who would go onto a Hall of Fame career, but at the moment struggled mightily against southpaws. With that in mind, Harris hatched a unorthodox plan. He would have Ogden, a right hander, start the game, and lock McGraw into a lineup with Terry batting fifth. Then, after one batter, he would go to his lefty Mogridge and force McGraw to react.

It was Bill Terry, Giant first baseman, who threw the scare into Harris and caused him to resort to this strategy to get him out of the way…And this strategy worked out perfectly. McGraw had shifted his team to combat Mogridge and Terry was out.” – Associated Press, “Psychology in World Series”, November 11, 1924

According to a newspaper account after the series that cited an unnamed team source, Harris had actually scripted the entire game, planning ahead of time which pitchers would be used and for how long. The only deviations occurred when Ogden struck out the first batter, which forced Harris to hold off on his planned pitching change, and the game went into extra innings, which required the veteran Johnson to throw four innings on only one day’s rest. 

Despite all of Harris’ maneuvering, the Senators’ World Series fate rested on the great Walter Johnson…just as everyone had expected, albeit under much different circumstances. After suffering losses in games 1 and 5, Johnson was disappointed to be skipped over in the final game, but like a true legend, he responded with four shutout innings in relief and picked up the victory when Earl McNeely’s RBI double in the bottom of the 12th clinched the World Series.

Although it still took a late game comeback and a heroic relief outing from the tired Johnson, Harris’ plan was widely credited with helping to steer the Senators to victory (his .333/.353/.515 line in 34 PAs and HR in game 7 probably didn’t hurt). By taking the bold stroke, Harris was essentially able to control McGraw’s use of the dangerous Terry, who had an OPS of 1.315 in the series. After watching Terry make two weak outs against the lefty Mogridge, the Giants’ skipper eventually relented and sent Irish Meusel to the plate in the sixth inning. Ready for the scenario, Harris responded with his relief ace Marberry, who if not for two errors would have escaped from the sixth largely unscathed. All told, the right-handed tandem of Marberry and Johnson pitched seven innings without surrendering an unearned run, so it’s only natural to wonder what might have been for the Giants if the potent left handed bat of Terry wasn’t removed so soon.

Was Bucky Harris the first sabermetric manager? And, if the strategy had backfired, would he be have been ridiculed for trusting his “binder”? Who knows…but for at least one game, the upstart Harris had outfoxed an old master and in the process made Curly Ogden a permanent part of World Series lore.

Bucky Harris not only guided the Senators to victory in the 1924 World Series as manager, but he also led with his bat. Here, he crosses the plate in the fourth inning of game 7 after hitting a HR to give his team a 1-0 lead.

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One night after Cliff Lee bombed in the first game of the 2010 World Series, a new postseason pitching star was born. Just as he has done all October, Matt Cain shut down the Rangers’ offense for 7 2/3 innings, helping to propel the Giants to a 2-0 series lead. With his latest scoreless effort, Cain has now thrown 21 1/3 consecutive shutout innings, the fourth highest total by any pitcher in one postseason.

Scoreless Postseasons

Pitcher ER IP Year
Waite Hoyt 0 27 1921
Christy Mathewson 0 27 1905
Kenny Rogers 0 23 2006
Matt Cain 0 21 1/3 2010
Carl Hubbell 0 20 1933
Mike Boddicker 0 18 1983
Whitey Ford 0 18 1960
Pedro Martinez 0 17 1999
Joe McGinnity 0 17 1905
Duster Mails 0 15.2 1920

Note: Minimum 15 IP
Source: Baseball-reference.com

Although Cain remains a long way from Mariano Rivera’s record of 33 1/3 scoreless innings in the postseason, he is within striking distance of Christy Mathewson’s and Jonathan Papelbon’s record of 27 consecutive shutout innings to begin a postseason career. Among those pitchers who have never given up a postseason run, however, Cain has now surpassed the former record of 20 scoreless innings, which was set by Joe Niekro over two postseason starts with the Astros in 1980 and 1981 as well as a relief appearance with the Twins in the 1987 World Series.

Another interesting aspect about Cain’s masterpiece was the fact that he wasn’t allowed to complete. Although Bruce Bochy’s decision to lift him made perfect sense from a strategic standpoint (he brought in a lefty to counteract the dangerous Josh Hamilton), it stands out like a sore thumb from a historical perspective. In the 106 year history of the World Series, Matt Cain became the first pitcher to go unscored upon in his World Series debut, but not pitch a complete game shutout (with three exceptions explained below).

Even though he wasn’t given the chance to complete his masterpiece, Cain still became the first pitcher to have a spotless World Series debut since Boston’s Jim Lonborg shutout the Cardinals in game two of the 1967 World Series. It would have been nice to see Cain go the distance, but his effort isn’t really diminished much by failing to do so. After all, it’s been several years since the advent of pitch counts and relief specialists, and during that span, no first timer has ever been scoreless in the World Series.

Leaving Early: Pitchers Who Departed Scoreless Outings in WS Debut

Player Date Game Tm IP H Reason for Departure
Juan Marichal 10/8/62 WS#4 SFG 4 2 Injured bunting in 5th.
Oral Hildebrand 10/8/39 WS#4 NYY 4 2 Pain in his side.
Curly Ogden 10/10/24 WS#7 WSH 1/3 0 Part of a strategic plan.*
Matt Cain 10/28/10 WS#2 SFG 7 2/3 4 Removed for RP.

*For more information on Ogden’s brief start, click here.
Source: Baseball-reference.com and various newspaper archives

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Cliff Lee is human after all.

Heading into yesterday’s World Series opener, Lee had compiled a 7-0 record with a 1.26 ERA, the third lowest postseason rate among starters with at least 50 innings (Sandy Koufax: 0.95 and Christie Mathewson: 0.97). Lee’s performance over the last two Octobers was so dominant that he even started to warrant serious consideration as one the best postseason pitchers of all-time. After watching him completely shutdown the potent Yankees’ lineup in game 3 of the ALCS, it would be hard for me to argue otherwise.

Cliff Lee’s Game 1 start seemed out of focus, but the Rangers’ lefty is not the first postseason ace to have a bad outing (Photo: Getty Images).

The combination of Lee’s recent success and the Giants’ low scoring offense made last night’s outcome one of the more surprising developments of the postseason. By surrendering six earned runs in only 4 1/3 innings, the Rangers’ ace saw his October ERA jump “all the way” to 1.96 (his World Series ERA is now 4.79 in three starts). Lee was also tagged with his first postseason loss, denying him the opportunity to tie Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez as the only pitcher to begin his playoff career at 8-0. It remains to be seen how Lee will bounce back in his next start, assuming he gets the chance, but at the very least, the Giants’ outburst has dispelled some of his aura of invincibility.

So, does Game 1 of the 2010 World Series remove Lee from the discussion of baseball’s greatest postseason pitchers? Not quite. Again, a lot will be determined by how Lee rebounds, both in this postseason and any future ones in which he may appear. After all, Lee isn’t the first postseason stud to suffer a blip in October. With rare exception,  just about every dominant ace has come up lacking in at least one playoff start.

Provided below are two lists. The first is a ranking of baseball’s best postseason starters, based on ERA (unadjusted). Included in the list are all starters with an ERA below 2.00 in at least 50 postseason innings. To account for those aces with more innings (and to avoid leaving several big names off the list), pitchers with an ERA below 3.00 in at least 100 postseason innings were also included.

A's lefty Eddie Plank never had a bad day in October. His worst postseason start would have been the envy of most pitchers.

The second chart provides a look at the “worst” postseason performance by each member of this group of October aces. For pitchers like Eddie Plank and Bob Gibson, “worst” is purely a relative term, but for most of the others, there is at least one black mark on their playoff resume.

Although Cliff Lee’s game score of 28 in last night’s game is tied for the second worst performance by a postseason master, he remains in very elite company. To stay there, however, Lee will need to return to his October dominance. He has already used his mulligan, and those worthy of being considered as baseball’s best postseason pitcher rarely get another.

 

Baseball’s Best Big Game Pitchers, Ranked By ERA

Pitcher IP GS ER W L ERA
Sandy Koufax 57 7 6 4 3 0.95
Christy Mathewson 101 2/3 11 11 5 5 0.97
Eddie Plank 54 2/3 6 8 2 5 1.32
Orval Overall 51 1/3 5 9 3 1 1.58
George Earnshaw 62 2/3 8 11 4 3 1.58
Lefty Grove 51 1/3 5 10 4 2 1.75
Carl Hubbell 50 1/3 6 10 4 2 1.79
Waite Hoyt 83 2/3 11 17 6 4 1.83
George Mullin 58 6 12 3 3 1.86
Bob Gibson 81 9 17 7 2 1.89
Herb Pennock 55 1/3 5 12 5 0 1.95
Cliff Lee 69 4 15 7 1 1.96
Fernando Valenzuela 63 2/3 8 14 5 1 1.98
Curt Schilling 1331/3 19 33 11 2 2.23
Orlando Hernandez 106 14 30 9 3 2.55
Orel Hershiser 132 18 38 8 3 2.59
Jim Palmer 124 1/3 15 36 8 3 2.61
John Smoltz 209 27 62 15 4 2.67
Whitey Ford 146 22 44 10 8 2.71

Note: Min. 50 IP and ERA < 2.00, or Min. 100 IP and ERA < 3.00
Source: Sean Lahman’s baseball database

Worst of the Best: Lowest Game Scores by MLB Postseason Aces

Pitcher Date Series Opp GSc
Orel Hershiser 10/18/1997 WS#1 FLA 21
Cliff Lee 10/27/2010 WS#1 SFG 28
Whitey Ford 10/3/1956 WS#1 BRO 28
Whitey Ford 10/15/1962 WS#6 SFG 28
Curt Schilling 10/13/2007 ALCS#2 CLE 29
John Smoltz 10/24/1995 WS#3 CLE 31
Waite Hoyt 10/10/1923 WS#1 SFG 32
Carl Hubbell 10/6/1937 WS#1 NYY 34
Jim Palmer 10/10/1973 ALCS#4 OAK 34
Orval Overall 10/17/1910 WS#1 PHA 35
George Earnshaw 10/9/1929 WS#2 CHC 39
Orlando Hernandez 10/17/2000 ALCS#6 SEA 41
Orlando Hernandez 10/20/2001 ALCS#3 SEA 41
Christy Mathewson 10/24/1911 WS#1 PHA 45
Lefty Grove 10/5/1931 WS#3 STL 45
Fernando Valenzuela 10/14/1981 NLCS#2 MON 48
Herb Pennock 10/15/1923 WS#6 NYG 49
Sandy Koufax 10/6/1966 WS#2 MIN 50
Bob Gibson 10/15/1964 WS#7 NYY 55
George Mullin 10/9/1907 WS#2 CHC 56
Eddie Plank 10/9/1905 WS#1 NYG 58

Source: Baseball-reference.com

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The 2010 World Series will be a unique one for many Yankees’ fans because the two teams involved do not really inspire a passionate rooting interest, either for or against. Of course, there are the traditional “root for the American League” or “root against the team that beat the Yankees” rationales to consider. Also, for the politically minded, the World Series could be used as the latest battleground in the nation’s “culture war” (after all, you can’t get more “red” than Texas or more “blue” than San Francisco). That’s not what we’re interested in, however. In order to truly become engaged in this series, Yankees’ fans will need some genuine rooting interest, and that is exactly what I am here to provide.

To help clear up some of the confusion, below are three factors to consider before picking sides. Think of it as the Yankee fan’s guide to the 2010 World Series.

1) Cliff Lee Factor

(photo from ladyloves pinstripes.com)

The Yankees’ offseason plans will likely revolve around signing Cliff Lee, but if the Rangers win the World Series, he may decide to mosey on back to Texas. After all, Lee was recently traded from the 2009 Phillies’ pennant winning team, so the ace lefthander may be reticent to pack his bags once again.  Defending a championship could be the impetus that convinces him to set down roots. However, if the Rangers were to lose, Lee might be less prone toward sentimentality. With that in mind, Yankee fans pining for Lee would probably be wise to root for the Giants.

 

2) New York Factor

As most baseball fans know, the San Francisco Giants trace their roots back to New York. In fact, they were the Yankees’ first rival, both on and off the field. If Giants’ owner Andrew Freedman had his way at the turn of the last century, there never would have been a New York Yankees, so for those inclined to hold long grudges, well, you know what to do.

The Polo Grounds was the home of the Giants when the team left town in 1957. The Giants had played in New York since 1883.

Along the same lines, there is small segment of former Giants fans that view the franchise’s World Series drought since bolting for San Francisco as a kind of punishment for the team’s decision to abandon the Big Apple. Not too many Giants fans likely converted over to the Yankees (and even fewer are probably still alive), but for those who did, the continuation of this curse could provide a very compelling rooting interest.

This factor could work both ways, however. As the old saying goes, time heels all wounds, so a Yankee fan with an appreciation for New York’s golden baseball past might take pleasure in seeing one of the city’s runaway franchises enjoy a return to glory.

3) Ex-Yankee Factor

Dave Righetti exults after striking out Wade Boggs to complete no hitter on July 4, 1983 (Photo: NY Daily News).

Neither the Giants nor the Rangers will feature a former Yankee player between the white lines, but more than a few coaches will bring back fond (and not so fond) memories to older Yankees fans.

The San Francisco Giants’ coaching staff reads like an invitation list to Yankees Old Timer’s Day. However, this crop of alumni played for the team when championships were no longer in vogue. As a result, each is in search of his first ring, which might tug at the heart strings of Yankees fans who suffered along with them during those trying times. 

  • Baserunning coach Henry Cotto played as a backup outfielder from 1985 to 1987, a three year stretch in which the Yankees won the second most games in the American League, but never made the playoffs.
  • Batting coach Hensley Meulens, or “Bam Bam” as he was known, was a highly touted prospect during the lean years of the late-80s/early-90s, but never lived up to his potential.
  • First base coach Roberto Kelly was another homegrown player from the “lost years”, but unlike Meulens, he did enjoy some success in pinstripes. In fact, he was probably the team’s best player from 1989 to 1991. Kelly is most known, however, for being the key component of the November 1992 trade with the Reds that brought Paul O’Neill to New York. Interestingly, Kelly also has another tie to the Yankees dynasty that followed shortly after his exit. As a product of Panama, it could be said that Kelly’s success helped fortify the Yankees’ interest in the region, which would later yield the immortal Marian Rivera.
  • Pitching coach Dave Righetti was one of the more beloved Yankees who played in the 1980s…almost a pitching equivalent of Don Mattingly. As a starter, he won the Rookie of the Year award in 1981 and pitched a Fourth of July no-hitter in 1983, and as a closer set the then saves record with 46 in 1986. Although it seemed as if “Rags” was destined to be a Yankee for his entire career, General Manager Gene Michael allowed him to leave for San Francisco after the 1990 season. The defection would have never been allowed if the Boss hadn’t been suspended earlier that season, but the decision turned out to be dead on in terms of player evaluation, serving as yet another example of Michael’s knack for making the right move as he built the next dynasty.

Andy Hawkins also pitched a “no-hitter” for the Yankees, but there was no celebration. The Yankees lost the game 4-0 (Photo: AP).

The Rangers also have an ex-Yankee on staff in bullpen coach Andy Hawkins. Perhaps no one player epitomized the Yankees’ down period more than the Hawk. Over his two-plus year Yankee career that spanned from 1989 to 1991, Hawkins went 20-29 with a 5.21 ERA (ERA+ of 76). Dubbed the “anchor of the staff” by manager Dallas Green, a reference that served as an endless source of ridicule for the media, Hawkins’ ultimate infamy came on July 1, 1990, when he no-hit the Chicago White Sox…and lost! Unfortunately for Hawkins, three errors in the eighth inning led to four White Sox runs, giving the hard luck pitcher the most lopsided no-hitter loss in history. Adding insult to injury, MLB even took that distinction away from Hawkins when years later it ruled that all no-hitters had to be complete nine inning games.

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Most baseball prognosticators expected the Yankees and Phillies to meet once again at season’s end, but the Rangers and Giants each brought a monkey wrench to their respective league championship series. So, instead of the first World Series rematch in 32 years, the Fall Classic will play host to two teams that have never won a championship in their current city.

World Series Rematches

Years Winner Loser   Years Winner Loser
1978 Yankees Dodgers   1937 Yankees Giants
1977 Yankees Dodgers   1936 Yankees Giants
             
1958 Yankees Braves   1931 Cardinals Athletics
1957 Braves Yankees   1930 Athletics Cardinals
             
1956 Yankees Dodgers   1923 Yankees Giants
1955 Dodgers Yankees   1922 Giants Yankees
        1921 Giants Yankees
1953 Yankees Dodgers        
1952 Yankees Dodgers   1908 Cubs Tigers
        1907 Cubs Tigers
1943 Yankees Cardinals        
1942 Cardinals Yankees        

Although the network executives at Fox are probably lamenting the absence of the sport’s higher profile teams, baseball enthusiasts should revel in watching a series between opponents that have combined to go 105 seasons without winning the World Series. As a result, regardless of the outcome, one of the game’s longest championship droughts will come to an end, continuing a recent trend that has witnessed the Angels, Red Sox and White Sox all break dry spells of at least 40 years. Baseball may not have the gerrymandered parity that ratings watchers seem to crave, but somehow, it still manages to spread the championship wealth without rewarding mediocrity.

World Series with Longest Combined Championship Drought

  NL AL Years
2005 Astros (43) White Sox (88) 131
2004 Cardinals (22) Red Sox (86) 108
2010 Giants (56) Rangers (49) 105
1975 Reds (35) Red Sox (57) 92
2002 Giants (48) Angels (41) 89
1980 Phillies (77)* Royals (11) 88
1986 Mets (17) Red Sox (68) 85
1995 Braves (38) Indians (47) 85
1966 Dodgers (11) Orioles (63)* 74
1972 Reds (32) A’s (42) 74
1987 Cardinals (5) Twins (63) 68

*Drought dates back to 1903, the year of the first World Series.
Note: 1904 and 1994 were included in calculating the durations. Winner in bold.

By advancing to the World Series, the Giants have now won 18 pennants, matching the Dodgers for most among National League teams and ranking only behind the Yankees’ 40 American League flags. With a victory, the Giants would also join the Dodgers with six championships, the fifth highest total among all teams and second in the senior circuit to the Cardinals’ 10 championships.

The Rangers 2010 postseason has already included the franchise’s first series victory as well as its first AL pennant (leaving only the Mariners and Nationals as the only teams to never appear in the Fall Classic). Should Texas prevail in the World Series, the franchise would further distance itself from October futility by removing its name from the list of teams without a World Series flag to fly (Astros, Brewers Mariners, Nationals, Padres, Rays and Rockies). A victory would also pass the mantle of oldest franchise without a championship across the state of Texas to the Houston Astros, who entered the National League in 1962, one year after the Washington Senators, the Rangers’ predecessors, debuted in 1961.

When the final team is left standing, a long suffering fan base will finally have a championship to celebrate. Both San Francisco and Dallas have emerged as two quality baseball towns, so wherever the next ticker tape parade is held, the fans will be very deserving. Of course, with a victory must come defeat, so for the fans of the team that comes up short, the dreams of a World Series victory will have to wait ‘til next year.

Longest Championship Droughts, By Team (30 Years or Longer)

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The 1958 Yankees are enjoying a bit of a revival thanks to their status as the franchise’s only team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in a seven game postseason series. At the Pinstriped Bible, Steve Goldman took a look at how Casey Stengel guided his team back from the brink of elimination, while TYU examined the players who made up the 1958 squad.  Perhaps the most interesting part about looking back at baseball’s past, however, is learning that the narrative hardly ever changes.

The press pin used by writers covering the 1958 World Series. Fifty years later, many of the same storylines from that Series apply to today.

Just like the 2010 NLCS opener (and again tonight’s game five) featured a much anticipated showdown between the Giants’ Tim Lincecum and the Phillies’ Roy Halladay, the 1958 World Series opened with White Ford squaring off against Warren Spahn, an encore of the previous seasons’ World Series opener that Ford won 3-1.  After Spahn’s victory in the rematch, noted sportswriter Jimmy Cannon crowed that the Braves’ perennial 20-game winner was still the best in the game, even if more scholarly observers preferred dynamic young arms like Don Drysdale, or veterans like Ford, who had much better peripheral statistics despited failing to win more than 19 games. Sound familiar? Needless to say, Cannon probably wouldn’t have been swayed much by the fact that Spahn only ranked tenth in ERA+ in 1958.

Baseball is not a complicated game, but those who know most about it appear to resent the simplicity of it. So they have a tendency to reject the standards by which all players must eventually be judged. Numbers count in baseball as much as they do in dice. You measure a man by the record he leaves behind him in the guides. There is no other way and, in time, the book wins all arguments. This makes Spahn the greatest pitcher now throwing for a big league club.” – Jimmy Cannon, North American Newspaper Alliance, October 2, 1958

Showing that he was fair to all parties, Cannon also wrote about the Yankees’ mystique after they came back to win the series. “It does no good to be influenced by the final conclusions of the accountants who compute the worth of ballplayers as if they were figuring a grocery bill. The Yanks are a special breed of ballplayer and they are loaded by some magic you can only comprehend vaguely,” Canon penned after game seven.

In addition to Cannon’s hyperbole, the storylines from each game would all sound familiar if written today. After going up 2-0, the main story was Braves’ manager Fred Haney’s cautious declaration that the “series is far from over,” but that quickly changed to the “worried Braves getting set to face the carefree Yankees” once the series reached a seventh game. Managerial second guessing was also rampant, particularly with regard to Haney’s decision to use Spahn on two days rest in game six. Of course, Spahn only gave up two runs in eight innings, and his mound opponent, Whitey Ford, who was also going on two days rest, didn’t make it out of the second inning, but just about every decision by the losing manager was fair game. When the Yankees polished off the comeback, they did so by beating Lew Burdette, the Yankee killer who bested the team three times in the 1957 World Series, and in the process stopped being the old, fading dynasty and resumed their rightful status as champions. Or, as Sarasota Herald-Tribune Sports Editor Nick Robertson wrote, “since this is the dairy state, it seems apropos to point out that cream always rises to the top”.

It remains to be read what the modern day scribes will write about the 2010 Yankees when all is said and done, but as Yogi Berra, the catcher on the 1958 team, once quipped, it could very well be “déjà vu all over again”.

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