Archive | October, 2010

Really? This guy beat me? A History of Lesser Known Players Coming up Big in Baseball’s Postseason

29 Oct
  1. By Chris Murray

If ever there was an unlikely hero in a postseason series, San Francisco Giants outfielder Cody Ross was certainly the guy.

Here was a guy who was cut by the Florida Marlins in August and gets picked up by the Giants and helps lead them to an improbable upset of the heavily-favored Philadelphia Phillies in the 2010 National League Championship Series.

In that series, Ross batted .350 and hit three homeruns. Two of those dingers came off the Phillies Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay, who will spend the winter wondering how did that guy, who hit just 14 homeruns during the regular season, get a couple of dingers off him after he threw the second no-hitter in postseason history?

But Halladay should take comfort in the notion that he is far from the only big-time pitcher to surrender a home run to some relatively unknown average Joe of a player during the postseason. Baseball history is full of its share of non-descript players who’ve had their moment in the sun and made some big play during the postseason. I believe that moments like this is what makes us love the game of baseball.

As a guy who grew up as a diehard Baltimore Orioles fan, especially during the 1970s and early 1980s, the one player I will never forget out all the great players like Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray is one Terry Lee “Tito” Landrum.

Landrum hit the greatest homerun in Orioles history or at least the greatest in all my years as O’s fan.

In 1983, the Orioles picked up the 28-year-old Landrum from the St. Louis Cardinals on Aug. 31 of that year. He started the 1983 season playing for the Cardinals Class AAA farm team in Louisville.

In fact, he was the player to be named later in the trade that sent catcher/third baseman Floyd Rayford to the Cardinals in June 1983.  Between Baltimore and St. Louis, Landrum played in just 33 games during the regular season and batted .298.

In Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, the Chicago White Sox were down 2-1 and on the brink of elimination in what was then a best of five series. Britt Burns was the starting pitcher for the Chisox and was brilliant for nine and one-thirds innings.

Burns had scattered just five hits during that span and kept the Orioles off the scoreboard. Unfortunately, the White Sox didn’t push across any runs thanks in part to a base running mistake by Jerry Dybsinski with two out in the bottom of the seventh when he overran second base with Vance Law already on third. During the rundown, Law tried to score from third and was thrown out at the plate. The game went into extra innings.

With one out in the 10th, Landrum, who was the O’s right fielder in that game, crushed a 1-0 fastball into the left field seats at Comiskey Park. As Landrum trotted around the bases, I will never forget the stunned look on Burns’ face. It was like how did the player to be named in a later in a trade get one off me like that?

Burns had eight strikeouts in that game. The Orioles, who scored two more runs in the 10th, went on to win the game, the American League Pennant, and ultimately the 1983 World Series.

Landrum, who was traded back to the Cardinals before the 1984 season, would go on to taste more postseason success with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985. In the NLCS that year, he batted .429 and he batted .360 with nine hits in the World Series.

Looking at his career in its totality, Landrum was primarily a bench player, who finished his nine-year career with a .249 batting average, 111 runs batted in and 13 homeruns.  He will always be remembered for the homerun that propelled the O’s to their last World Series title.

Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Sandy Amoros was definitely not a household name in the 1950s nor is he one of those guys you hear talked about much if you’re talking about the great players in the team’s history.

Amoros will always occupy a special place in the hearts of Dodgers fans for what he did with his glove.

In Game 7 of the 1955 World Series, the Dodgers were holding a precarious 2-0 lead over the New York Yankees in the bottom of the sixth inning. With a man on first and nobody out, Yankees catcher Yogi Berra hit what looked to be a double or a triple into the  spacious, deep left field corner of Yankee Stadium

However, Amoros, who throws lefthanded, reached out for the ball with his glove hand and made the catch.  He then threw the ball back to shortstop Pee Wee Reese who relayed the ball to Gil Hodges at first to double up Gil McDougald. Hank Bauer grounded out to end the inning for the Yankees, who didn’t threaten the rest of the way. The Dodgers finally won the World Series against their hated crosstown rivals after four tries.

Then there’s the story of New York Mets infielder Al Weis and the 1969 World Series. Talk about a player and a team that would have opposing players talking to themselves in the offseason.

In just five games, the Mets beat an Orioles team that won 109 games during the regular season with three future Hall-of-Famers in Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson and Jim Palmer. The Mets had a whole team of guys, with the exception of Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, and Nolan Ryan, you probably never heard of before and after that Series.

Donn Clendenon, who started the season with the Montreal Expos in 1969, won the MVP Award.  Meanwhile, guys like outfielder Ron Swoboda were flying around the outfield making diving catches and looking like the second coming of Willie Mays while robbing the Orioles of extra base hits.

But it was Weis who came up huge in the Mets improbable upset of the Orioles.

In Game 2, Weis, who finished his career with a .218 lifetime batting average, hit a game-winning RBI-single off Dave McNally in the ninth to give the Mets a 2-1 victory.  In Game 5, Weis, who had just six lifetime homeruns to that point in his career, hit the game-tying homerun of McNally, a 20-game winner that year.

I suspect that as Weis was rounding the bases, McNally had to be thinking, “that guy hit a home run off me? Really? Really? Who is this guy?”  In an 800-game career (1962-1971), Weis had just seven career homeruns—two of them off McNally.

That was Weis’ last glimpse of glory in baseball, the Mets released him in July, 1971.

A final postscript to that 1969 World Series.  As an intern at the Milwaukee Journal in 1990, I ran into Brooks Robinson at Milwaukee’s old County Stadium and struck up a conversation. He told me that losing that 1969 Series  bothered him because he felt that was the Orioles best team even better than the team that won it 1970.

Robinson told me it really hit him during a taping of the old ABC TV series, “The  American Sportsman,” when he asked himself  (paraphrasing) how did those guys beat us?

If you’re a Boston Red Sox fan, turn away from this section. The story of New York Yankees shortstop Bucky Dent or as Boston fans like to refer to him, Bucky “F—-g” Dent is another in the stories of unlikely heroes coming through in crunch time.

Here was a guy who, in the eyes of some White Sox fans, failed to fill the big shoes left by Hall of Fame  shortstop Luis Aparicio and then comes to the New York Yankees to become a hero in 1978.

In the one-game playoff between the Yankees and the Red Sox at Fenway Park, Dent hit a three-run homerun that put the Yankees on top for good.  In his  12-year career, Dent hit just 40 homeruns.  New York would go on to win the 1978 World Series with Dent as its MVP.

Perhaps the ultimate obscure player story in baseball’s postseason is the story of New York Yankees pitcher Don Larsen, the journeyman pitcher who threw the only perfect game in World Series history.

A relatively unknown player who played with about seven teams and had a 3-21 record with the then expansion Baltimore Orioles, Larsen had a reputation for being a carouser and partier like his teammate Mickey Mantle.

But Larsen started Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the defending champion Brooklyn Dodgers. According to many accounts at the time, Larsen’s teammates were shocked that he was on the mound for that game after he lasted just two innings in Game 2 of that series.

Larsen pitched liked he was the second coming of Walter Johnson and Cy Young and shut down a Dodgers team that had Hall-of-Famers like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Roy Campanella. One sportswriter described him as an “imperfect man who pitched the perfect game.”

That’s the real beauty of baseball, where the sun can really shine on a dog’s ass once and it’s not a bad thing.

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Lack of Offense Derails Phillies Title Hopes

25 Oct

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

The Philadelphia Phillies unceremonious exit from the National League Championship Series can simply be summed up by Ryan Howard striking out looking with men on first and second with two out.

Even though the Phillies had arguably the best starting rotation in baseball in 2010 with NL Cy Young candidate Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and Cole Hamels, the Phillies lack of offense ultimately killed their hopes for a second World Series title in three years.

In the post game press conference following his team’s loss to the Giants, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said the Phils offense never found a groove on a consistent basis throughout the regular season and the playoffs.

“It always went up and down,” Manuel said.  “We weren’t blowing people out and we weren’t really like hitting like we can. Although, we got hits at the big time in the game, I felt like we played really sound baseball. But there again, like it seemed like we never put up runs like I know we can.”

Baseball history is littered with the carcasses of playoff teams that had solid starting rotations that failed to produce a championship when their offense was struggling. You can look back on some of those Atlanta Braves teams in the 1990s that had pitchers like Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux, but their offense wasn’t strong enough to get them over the top.

In 1971, the Baltimore Orioles had four 20-game winners in their starting rotation, but batted just .205 in their seven-game World Series loss to Roberto Clemente and the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Phillies batted just .216 in the NLCS. They hit just three homeruns and failed to produce when they had runners in scoring position.  The decisive Game 6 was a microcosm of the Phillies postseason woes. The Phillies were just 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position. For the NLCS, the Phils were 8-for-45 when they runners on second and third base (.177).

“That’s the way it goes,” Rollins said.  “You can look back and look at the number of opportunities that we had and we didn’t get it done. Sometimes that happens.  You have to give credit to (the Giants) pitchers, but we’re a good enough team and we’ve shown that’s a situation we thrive in, but they found a way to keep getting us out.”

Perhaps the hardest pill for Phillies fans to swallow was that Howard, who hit 31 homeruns with 108 runs batted in, failed to drive in any runs during the six-game series with San Francisco. Oddly enough, he batted .318 during the six-game series. But having a nice batting average doesn’t mean anything if you don’t produce runs.

Game 6 was symbolic of their inability to come up with the big hit to put them over the top in the NLCS. After scoring two runs in the first inning, the Phillies had runners in scoring position in the third, fifth, sixth, eighth and ninth innings and did not score.  It is equivalent to a football team reaching the red zone that many times and not scoring.  It was no doubt the most frustrating aspect of this series for the Phillies.

“It was frustrating, but at the same time we were still getting by,” Howard said “We’re a good hitting team with a really explosive offense, but it just wasn’t there. It’s kind of hard to explain. You have to give it up to the Giants.”

In retrospect, the injuries to players like Rollins (hamstring and calf) Howard (ankle) , and Chase Utley (thumb) seemed to have taken the team out of their rhythm. After those players were injured, they weren’t the same and at times their production suffered. Yet, they played well enough to overcome a seven-game deficit in July and win the National League East.

“It really depends on the type of injury and we’ve had some injuries that affected a lot of what you do playing the game,” said Rollins, who missed a career-high 74 games in 2010. “My legs, my game is speed. To hit, you have to stand on your legs. When you get injured, especially in the lower half, you have to find ways to play without it hurting and that can lead to bad habits.”

The Phillies lost three of the four games by just one run. Aside from Matt Cain’s 3-0 shutout in Game 3, the Phillies lost three games by one run. It was the Giants who came up with the big hits when they needed them, something the Phillies would often do to their opponents in the postseason.

Rightfielder Cody Ross, who was cut by the Florida Marlins in August, hit two homeruns off Halladay and three for the series.  Juan Uribe’s two-out eighth-inning put the Giants ahead for good in Game 6 and his sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth in Game 4 put the Phillies in the deep hole from which they never recovered.

 

 

Rollins, Oswalt Help Phils Even NLCS

18 Oct

By Chris Murray

PHILADELPHIA–After striking out three times in Game 1 of the 2010 National League Championship Series, a very laid back Jimmy Rollins told reporters in the Phillies clubhouse that he was close to breaking out of a 1-for 15 slump. He said he knew what he needed to do at the plate intellectually, but had to feel it.

“I see what I’m doing, but it’s a just matter of feeling it and when you feel what you’re doing, it’s just matter of making the corrections,” he said. “You figure things out. You solve problems. Sometimes there’s going to be confusion. But once you lose the confidence, you’re not going to play at this level.”

As esoteric and as metaphysical at that sounds, J-Roll once again proved he was a man of his word.

In Game 2, Rollins broke out of his hitting woes with an emphatic performance. He drove in four-runs, including a clutch three-run double that capped a four-run seventh while enabling the Phillies to even the NLCS at game apiece with a 6-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants in front of 46, 099 towel-waving fans at Citizen’s Bank Park.

For Rollins, who had been moved from the lead off spot to the sixth spot in the Phils batting order, it was his first breakout performance of the postseason, something he and Charlie Manuel had been looking for throughout the post season.

“This is a game of adjustments,” Rollins said. “You look at video and you try to see things, that’s step one. And like I said, as you try to make that adjustment by feeling what you’re doing incorrectly, sometimes you just put a good swing on a ball, find some gap. Hopefully, I can take what I did today and just keep it going.”

Rollins drove in his first run without taking a swing when he walked with the bases loaded in the first inning to give the Phillies a 1-0 lead. His next hit came in the fourth inning when Giants third baseman Mike Fontenot  misplayed a pop fly that bounced in front of him. The official scorer gave Rollins a single, something that the Phils shortstop took with joy and gladness considering the horrendous slump he had been in prior to Game 2.

“Anytime you see Jimmy swinging the bat, it’s great, It’s what it’s about,” said centerfielder Shane Victorino. “It’s about all of us swinging the bat. Collectively, we did some good things tonight. We didn’t come out with a 10-15 hit barrage, but we were able to manufacture some runs.”

With the bases loaded and two out in the seventh,  Rollins buried the Giants for good with a double off the right field wall. When the inning was over, he got a standing ovation from the crowd, who were chanting, “J-Roll, J-Roll!”

Ryan Howard said Rollins supreme confidence even under the most difficult of circumstances is what keeps him and the team from getting to down when slumps like this occur from time to time.

“He knows how talented he is, he knows that this is a part of the game,” Howard said. “You have to take the good with the bad. When you’re in a slump, you’re bound to come out and when you come out, you just run with it.”

Meanwhile, pitcher Roy Oswalt turned in another masterful pitching performance from the Phils highly-touted starting rotation. In eight innings of work, he allowed a homerun by the Phillies nemesis Cody Ross and just three hits while striking out nine. He helped his own cause by starting the four-run seventh rally with a single. He later scored on a single by Placido Polanco after running through the stop sign by third base coach Sam Perlozzo.

“The first thing in my mind score, when I got halfway, I saw the stop sign, I said it was too late, no turning back now, ” Oswalt said smiling.

Phillies bats silent in Game 1 loss in the NLCS

17 Oct

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

PHILADELPHIA—Throughout the city this week, fans kept gushing over how there was no way the San Francisco Giants were going to touch the Phillies three-headed monster rotation of Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels.

There was little concern among Phils fans over the struggles of the Phillies offense, which batted an anemic .212 in the team’s three game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds during the National League Division Series.

The Phillies offense was going to wake up eventually, right?  Not in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.

On a night when Halladay struggled to keep the ball in the park, the Phillies offense could only flip the switch to lukewarm.

The Phillies 4-3 loss to the Giants in Game One of the NLCS in front of a sellout crowd of 44, 929 at Citizen’s Bank Park happened because Phillies bats have yet to show up in the postseason.

The middle of the Phillies lineup from three through seven was a combined 4-for-16.  Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins struck out three times. Right fielder Raul Ibanez was 0-for-3 batting at the seventh spot. Overall, the Phillies struck out 13 times.

“I’m concerned with that,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “I think we need to hit better and we have to score more runs of course.”

Manuel’s biggest concern at the plate is Rollins, who is 1-for-15 in the postseason.  He was 0-for-4 against the Giants in the Game One loss.  But during his  postgame interview with reporters, Rollins seemed unfazed by his own struggles.

“Confidence is unshakable,” Rollins said. “If you lose that,  you don’t have a chance. Just execute. That’s the part that becomes difficult, but after the game I looked at some footage. I see what I’m doing, but now it’s just a matter of feeling it. When you feel it, you can make those corrections. I’m pretty close, but it got worse as the night went on.”

Manuel was frustrated with Rollins and said he would consider putting him back at the leadoff spot. Shane Victorino in the lead off spot Saturday night and  was 0-for-5.

“I’ll think about a whole lot of things tonight,” Manuel said. “We need to put together more offense. Basically we got off to a good start to the season, but we’ve been sputtering ever since. But at the same time we’re capable of doing it.”

If you’re looking for a silver lining in the midst of the Phillies offensive struggles, Jayson Werth, who was batting .167 in the postseason coming into Saturday night’s game, was 2-for-3 including a two-run homerun in the bottom of the sixth inning to bring the Phillies to within one-run.  Catcher Carlos Ruiz put the Phillies on the board in the third with an opposite field to right.

“We swung it a lot better in game one than we did in any game in the last series (against Cincinnati).” Rollins said. “That’s a positive. Each day is going to different. It’s a good sign to see balls jumping off the bat.”

On what was kind of an off-night for Tim Lincecum, who finished the game with eight strikeouts while allowing three runs on just six hits in seven innings, the Phillies had their chances to score more runs when they had runners in scoring position in the first and third innings. Both times the Phillies came up empty on both occasions.

Meanwhile, no one was expecting Cody Ross, the no. 8 hitter in the Giants lineup to be the second-coming of Reggie Jackson. This was a guy who was cut and thrown on the scrap heap by the Florida Marlins back in August.

Ross owned Halladay Saturday night and smacked two homeruns that got the Giants going against a pitcher who didn’t allow a hit or a run coming into the game. Halladay pitched seven innings and allowed four runs on eight hits and struck out eight.

“Cody’s a good hitter,” said Giants manager Bruce Bochy. “And Cody’s been swinging the bat well and certainly gave us a sense of confidence in that dugout, putting us on the board like that.”