Monday, October 17, 2005

What a weekend

It's times like these when the analyst in me goes to sleep and the fan busts out. I can't help but stand up and cheer both the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox. Game 4 of the NLDS was absolutely riveting, and pretty much everything you'd expect from two closely matched teams. The Astros can thank their bullpen for this victory, as four pitchers combined to shut down St. Louis's dangerous lineup. The game-ending double play brought me out of my seat. It was the most immaculate turn I've ever seen, especially in such a pressure situation. If you get a chance to see the replay again, watch Adam Everett's transfer and throw. It's enough to make me wax on about the beauty of human bodies in motion, but at the time all I could do was jump up screaming because it was so exciting. The ump even made the correct call!

The umpiring, unfortunately, is sure to steal away some attention. For the record, the home plate umpire had a horrible strike zone, and I don't blame La Russa for getting angry. I'm surprised he allowed himself to get thrown out; I'm guessing he thought he could fire up the team, or something. It seems like all he accomplished was to piss off the home plate enough to ring up Jim Edmonds on a pitch that missed by about a foot. I'm sure Edmonds had a naughty word or two for the umpire, but to toss him in addition to La Russa was ridiculous, especially on such a horrible call. St. Louis almost received poetic justice when 3-2 count pinch-hitter John Rodriguez hit the ball 415 feet; unfortunately for St. Louis, Minute Maid's centerfield runs about 435, and Willy Taveras was there to make a fine play.

As beautiful as the double play was (here comes the analyst), it probably shouldn't have happened. Earlier in the inning Albert Pujols had shown why the "5-tool player" moniker truly applies to him, when he smartly went from 1st to 3rd on a Larry Walker single, setting up 1st and 3rd with no outs. Houston had no choice but to bring in the infield, which meant that Pujols should have been overly cautious on any ball hit in the infield. He wasn't, however, and Morgan Ensberg gunned him at the plate. It looked like Pujols strayed too far off the bag and felt like he wouldn't be able to beat Ensberg back to third. Or perhaps he just decided to use his adrenaline and hope to force Ensberg into a bad throw. If it were a tie game, I can see taking that risk and forcing the defense to make a bad play. In a trailing situation however, I think Pujols was reckless. Of course Larry Walker just about made up for it by smartly advancing to 3rd on the throw home, but the ensuing double play proved just how valuable a single out can be.

I'm finding it hard to come up with words about the White Sox. It's difficult to call them a dominant team, because they only had one blowout in the series, and no shutouts. But when your bullpen only has to throw seven pitches in four games? I can't think of any other word to describe it. Even though the White Sox pitchers gave up some runs, there was an air of inevitiability whenever they were on the mound in the late innings. Even with stirring in the bullpen tonight, I just knew that Contreras would make the right pitch and get the right play from his defense. He looked done in the dugout during the top of the 9th, and I was surprised Ozzie sent him back out there. But Guillen proved his rapport with his staff is the best in baseball, and Contreras rewarded the decision with three incredibly easy outs.

So the World Series will come to Chicago for the first time since 1959. It's quite exciting to be living here, and I'll try my damndest to get the $125 upper deck tickets for Game 1 or 2. I shouldn't tantalize myself with that possibility, because it probably won't happen. But if it did...hoo boy...especially if Chicago ends up playing Houston. I'll be rooting hard for an Astros victory tomorrow night, because I desperately want to see the titantic pitching matchups that would result. There's no better time to be a baseball fan than when two teams with stables full of excellent pitchers play for the championship. I can't wait for Saturday.

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