Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How to cheat without getting caught

Oh, how I wish I were Kenny Rogers.

After his first three starts this postseason, he’s yet to surrender a run, a Jekyll-and-Hyde performance compared to his 8.85 postseason ERA entering this year’s playoffs, which by the way, just happened to be the highest in history.

His 42-year old soft-tossing left arm suddenly packs punch, looking more and more like that of a pitcher half his age.

He’s 3-0, doesn’t have an ERA, and for lack of a better word, has been unhittable.

But that’s merely an ounce of the reason I wish I were Kenny Rogers.

Rogers was caught cheating in the first inning of Game Two of the World Series Sunday night, and still got away with the crime, which can be described in a Law and Order type of scene like this:

Starring as the accuser whose ultimate motivation behind the accusation was public goodwill is St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

The defendant is Rogers, who’s fitting nickname, “The Gambler,” has come full-circle the past few weeks. Three starts, three forms of dirt, pine tar or mud, and now, thanks to Todd Jones, chocolate cake isn’t even out of the question. More on the evidence later.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland acts as Rogers trusty lawyer whose “I’m not going to chew yesterday’s breakfast” quote Monday was so lawyer-like after his client was busted, you swear it was really Johnny Cochrane talking.

The judge and prosecutor are Steve Palermo and Alfonso Marquez, respectively. Palermo is an umpire supervisor and decided that although home plate umpire Marquez informed him that the suspect, Rogers, was indeed guilty of having a foreign substance on his left hand, no further action would be taken.

Cameras showed Rogers and Marquez talk between innings, and this is how Marquez recalled addressing Rogers.

“Kenny, also that dirt thing that you’ve got on your hand, if you’ll just do me a favor and take it off,” Marquez said.

That’s like telling the bank robber to return the money, get rid of the ski mask, and get on with his life. Oh, how you could just feel the love flowing in Comerica Park.

Now THIS is the kind of legal system we need.

THIS is what I have been calling for since second grade, the beginning of a countless number of times where I had been accused and prosecuted unjustly.

Hey, besides the fact that such a legal system would corrupt our society, at least there would be no need for jury duty. Because, as the jury, it’s so blatantly obvious what was on Mr. Rogers hand that we’ve all collectively decided to skip.

That’s right; we missed out on testimony from Leyland, who explained like Einstein how dirt-plus-spit-plus-rosin equals that circular brown sport on Rogers hand. That brown spot that television cameras caught on Rogers every time out this postseason and at least once in the regular season.

We missed Jones showcase a delicious piece of chocolate cake, fighting back the kind of mischievous laughter one gets while defending such an outlandish claim—that a pitcher could use pine tar to improve grip and combat the arctic-like temperatures of late October baseball in Detroit.

A claim that Jones coincidentally admitted to using in his previous stint with the Colorado Rockies.

So here we are, finally with somewhat of a grasp on this whole situation thanks to La Russa’s comments Monday.

Light has been shed on answers that were in the dark late Sunday night, where the accuser wouldn’t talk, the judge explained the process implied, and the defense’s comments not only disputed the judge’s, but defendant and defense lawyer sounded like they needed some time to get on the same page.

Confused yet?

La Russa confirmed he approached the umpiring crew to let them know about the pine tar on Rogers hand.

Yes, I said it. Pine tar. We’re making progress.

But, with delight from high above, in baseball’s immortal world, a world ran under a set of unwritten rules by names like Ruth and Aaron, including such brilliant cheaters like Bouton and Gossage, La Russa decided to take the high road and preserve the game’s integrity.

An integrity that cheating has been so much a part of for so long. La Russa knows his players have long used these innocent tactics which are widely accepted throughout present-day baseball, and even more so in it’s rich history.

He was also aware of the stain such an event would have on the game’s biggest stage, the World Series.

“I decided that I was not going to be part of [the garbage] where I was going to ask the umpire to go to the mound and undress the pitcher,” said La Russa.
“I said, ‘I hope it gets fixed, if it doesn't get fixed then I'll take the next step.’ Because I do think if someone is abusing ... the way we handle this is, quit doing that, before this becomes a big deal or ugly or whatever. I mean stop it. That's what was done last night,” he continued.
Kudos to La Russa, whom many believe to be the brightest mind in the game, for not forcing the ejection of Rogers in the opening inning, something that would have undoubtedly given the Cardinals an advantage.

Not only would Leyland have had to open the bullpen door in the first inning, Rogers magical postseason run would have come to an end right there, following a suspension.

It’s no secret La Russa and Leyland are great friends. But La Russa’s actions didn’t seem to be based on a friendship, but rather on a deeply-rooted passion for the game.

And as for the post-pine tar hand? It looked pretty good, as La Russa acknowledged. Rogers cruised through eight innings of two-hit baseball, extending his consecutive scoreless innings streak to 23. He’s now second place on the all-time list for consecutive scoreless innings in a single postseason, behind Christy Mathewson’s 27.

At least we known seven of those innings were pine tar free.

But the only thing more entertaining than the emotional Rogers mowing down the Cardinals lineup in Game Two would have been if one were able to listen to the two old-time managers converse afterward.

They both knew what happened, and that the situation couldn’t have worked out any better for the game, as weird and fishy as it looked and seemed.

Think about it again: Kenny Rogers was caught, but didn’t get caught.

Boy, if I had just known of this Rogers fellow in middle school. He would have been THE ultimate superhero.

Just think of the countless hours that were wasted in after-school detention, at home grounded, or actually studying for tests that could have just as easily been aced using the Kenny Rogers method.

You cheat. You get caught. You win.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Do you believe in magic? I do

Alright, so the sky has fallen.

That much is is evident judging by the looks of 40,000-plus people filing out of Comerica Park Sunday afternoon, a day in which these people expected to lose their voices instead of walking out silently.

A day where the Tigers were primed to capture their first division title since 1987, one where the champagne would flow yet again, only a week after the team popped bottles in Kansas City.

This celebration would undoubtedly be sweeter, in front of the home fans.

Sure, Zach Miner squandered any chance of clinching on Saturday night, after allowing 7 runs in the first inning.

But they couldn't lose to the Royals--who were 3-14 against the Tigers--again with an opportunity to clinch the division, could they?

Of course not.

And they did a great job of selling that to us the first three innings of the game, jumping out to a 6-0 cushion.

Four hours and thirty-seven minutes later, the only thing we were sold on was a mammoth collapse, and a trip to New York.

All that was left to do before boarding the plane was to sign and seal the A.L. Central championship to Minnesota, because afterall, the Tigers had just handed it to them.

What's worse (and is there really anything worse than getting swept by the Royals?) is the trip to New York, where they'll begin the postseason against the Yankees, formerly known as the A.L. All-Stars. With just one win against the quadruple-A Royals, they could have started off at home, with two games against the A.L. West champion Oakland A's.

But hey, as impossible as it seems, let's look on the bright side for a second.

At least we're not White Sox fans.

Boy, that must be one unhappy group of campers after watching both playoff-bound teams from the Central stumble, stumble, and stumble again down the stretch.

Truth be told, there's about as much of a bright side to this series with the Yankees as there is a nice side of the Bronx.

Which is why. . . GASP!. . . I'm going with the Tigers.

In October, you can only count on one thing: the unexpected.

Yes, the Tigers have limped into the postseason from both a physical and mental standpoint, far from their midseason form.

And yes, the Yankees boast the most dominant lineup anyone alive has seen, Yankee Stadium is still the most intimidating backdrop for playoff baseball, and they haven't missed a postseason in a decade.

But this series has upset written all over it, to just about nobody in the country except me.

No, I have no statistical proof whatsoever that points to the contrary, partly because I'm not mathematically gifted enough to create a new stat. But there simply isn't one that exists which points to an upset.

And I'm not sure, but I think my cat just asked me if I was crazy.

On paper, the Bronx Bombers lineup is staggering from top to bottom. Future Hall-of-Fame names such as Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Gary Sheffield are penned in nightly. Hearing the rest of the lineup just might make you sick.

Their pitching doesn't lack substance, either. Chien-Ming Wang was a victory away from 20 wins in the regular season, Mike Mussina is having another stellar year under the radar, and has anyone heard of Randy Johnson? He's questionable for the series, but that's not a pitcher Tigers hitters want to see this time of the year.

Let's not even get started with the Yankee Stadium ghosts or the aura of the pinstripes. We'll take those as they come. No need to scare Jim Leyland out of his boots.

There are a couple things stirring in my gut about this series.

This team has appeared to relish in the underdog role. Sure, they haven't been real underdogs since April or May, but whenever adversity hits, they've responded with wins. Take Leyland's outburst in mid-April, the Dmitri Young situation, or late-season sweeps at Chicago and Minnesota.

Every time, they've responded with wins. There is a sort of brotherhood around this team that you just don't see with teams that win the Wild Card and promptly get bounced from the playoffs.

When the postseason was clinched, most of them had a small taste of what winning is like, and after expecting to get more of that taste, it was taken away from them in a heartbeat. Now they want it back.

Secondly, in the playoffs, the lumber gets colder. Which means pitchers have a distinct advantage over hitters. The Tigers finished the regular season with the lowest ERA in the majors, at 3.84. That's quite a feat coming out of the A.L.

Coincidentally, the pitchers who started the season in the #4 and #5 slots in the rotation will open the playoffs. Oddly enough, it could work out best in this situation.

Both Nate Robertson and rookie Justin Verlander have the potential to win games in New York. Robertson has a bulldog mentality on the mound, and his record (13-13) doesn't do him justice with the run support he's recieved in the past.

Verlander hasn't fared well against the leagues top-tier teams, but the Yankees haven't seen him, another slight advantage for the Tigers. He has stuff that, when he's on, is flat-out dominating. But as a rookie starting in Yankee Stadium, can you really count on that?

A split in New York is absolutely crucial. Fly back home down 0-2, and the Tigers are done. They could scrape out a win in Game Three, give some Detroiters false hope and host another playoff game, but they will not beat the Yankees in three straight.

If the Tigers manage a split, they're going to wrap up the series without having to take a return trip to the Big Apple for Game Five.

The audacity I have to pick a four-game series win, not even a five-game thriller that would seem much more likely, you mutter.

However, the pitching matchups are favorable for the games in Detroit, and there's a mysterious air of confidence flying around, arising after such a disappointing weekend.

Such confidence that can't be measured with history, stats, or pitching matchups.

In a word, it's magical. The team, the season. The mix of young and old, the rebirth of a baseball town. Something tells me that this ride won't stop for the Yankees, and the story will continue.