Eric: I feel like I need to do some sort of literary knuckle-cracking. How long has it been since we’ve done this? Don’t answer that. I watched Game 2 at a quiet neighborhood bar last night with music piping through the speakers instead of play by play. Buck and McCarver-less, those first seven innings went by in what felt like fifteen minutes. I have two theories as to why: 1.) the game was actually just very short because Garcia and Lewis were fantastic and 2.) when you watch a game free of broadcasters and other outside stimuli — this bar was very empty — your imagination can run wild. I found myself noticing things about the players that I never would otherwise have considered. For example, Colby Lewis has the most perfectly brown and shaped and broken in baseball glove I have ever seen: it’s flawless. And without announcers there to remind you of how great of a person he is, Albert Pujols doesn’t just look boring, he looks sad. His eyes are heavy and forlorn like it doesn’t matter whether he hits .400 in the postseason or whether Lance Berkman is protecting him in the lineup, or whether the Cards win or lose. Is he gazing into the distance at a future outside St. Louis? After all, the World Series is not just an event — it’s also an ending.
Ted: Where have you been watching the World Series, Eric, the lobby bar of the Days Inn Tukwila?
I will now quote an imaginary book-within-a-book: “It always saddens me to leave the field. Even fielding the final out to win the World Series, deep in the truest part of me, felt like death.” While I’m sure there’s some parallel to Pujols’ demeanor and the melancholy tendencies of an imaginary shortstop, Aparicio Rodriguez, the imagined Hall of Fame-type character from “The Art of Fielding,” has an endless passion for baseball, whereas Albert’s seems to be running on the dry side. For reasons I’m not quite prepared to explain, Pujols’ appeal must be at an all-time low. He’s catching almighty hell for leaving the locker room quickly after last night’s game on the heels of a modest fielding error, and it seems that, in the public eye, his dominance as a player is somehow caving in around him vis a vis public adoration.
One pet theory: Lance Berkman has reminded St. Louis and America what a chill dude is like, and the contrast between a chill dude and a stoic personality drain has thrown Pujols into a new light. As Eric Freeman notes in a Deadspin article, Pujols and manager Tony Larussa don’t seem to fit into the modern cultural landscape the way that a dynamic man of the times like Joe Maddon does. Freeman goes on: “Major League Baseball generally lacks personality. Albert Pujols, Cardinals star and the best hitter of the last decade, has none.” Harsh words for the decade’s greatest hitter, former WS champ, and current WS player. The Rangers, if anything, embody a young, contemporary attitude towards baseball and the playing thereof. Is there a pair of infielders playing now who are more enjoyable to watch than Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus? (That question is non-rhetorical.)
Eric: How about a trio? Because Adrian Beltre is as exciting a defensive third baseman as a third baseman can be. Also, he has a hard time standing still in the batter’s box. Andrus-Kinsler is obviously a more enjoyable middle infield combo than Furcal-Punto, though there’s something to be said for Furcal’s energy this postseason (even when he can’t hit, he really seems like he can hit) and Punto’s grizzly beard. Has any small, powerless, middle infielder ever looked more world-weary than Nick Punto? Lemme tell you, that guy has seen it all.
I feel as though we’re overlooking the real heroes of Game Two, and those were the starting pitchers. It’s funny to think about, but Garcia and Lewis both came out of nowhere last season. Lewis was a curiosity returned from Japan (though Carson Cistulli somehow predicted his success before 2010) and Garcia was a Spring Training miracle who just wouldn’t go away. Now they just seem like good pitchers. Lewis has a 2.22 era in 44 playoff innings these last two years. Those are some Curt Schilling numbers right there. (I’ve always wanted to invoke Schilling in a purely statistical fashion; his career playoff ERA is 2.23, though in many more innings than Lewis.)
This World Series has been billed as a battle of dominant bullpens. Does that narrative leave you as cold as it leaves me?
Ted: The dearth of marquee starting pitchers does detract from the adrenaline of the first few innings of these games, sure. But good pitching is almost as entertaining as marquee pitching. Jaime Garcia has been on my style radar for some time, as he’s as little sung as Colby Lewis with stuff on par with some of the best young pitchers in the game. After inning three or four, his work setting down some fine right-handed hitters takes the place of the marquee desire. A match-up of bullpens I suppose slows the game down, and there are few truly iconic performances attributed to relievers.
Which reminds me, it has been a while since I’ve seen the media parse a game into its parts with such a fine toothed comb as they have this World Series. Whether questioning LaRussa’s bullpen moves or Ron Washington’s bullpen moves, it seems to me that there is a kind of obsessed attention being paid to the tid bits. I never would have thought that a match-up featuring the Rangers offense against Pujols, Holliday, and Berkman would come down to piddly maneuvers and hot defense.
Eric: I think part of the strategy obsession has to do with the managerial character of this series. Imagine a Ron Roenicke vs Joe Girardi series or some such — people who don’t read the New York Post would hardly think twice about bullpen usage. The Washington – La Russa dynamic is another one that feels completely different at the bar with the game on mute. La Russa, for instance seems far less menacing in silence, and far more like a bit actor in a second-rate cop show. Washington on the other hand just looks kind of like a fan. Anyway, we can save the strategic theorizing and second guessing for next time.