Notes From the Shadows of Cooperstown: Playoffs!
The season ended about four months ago for my Pirates, who kept their streak alive (consecutive seasons below .500). Here is how this Pirate fan of over 50 years sees the bright side: first, the Bucs finished over .400, which is not good, but winning more than 4 of 10 means you could enter every series looking for a win, and perhaps the series, without worrying about finding any brooms to carry to the third game. Also, the Pirates did not lose 100 games, a shameful number.
And hereâ€™s the best news: they finished ahead of three other teams, Seattle, San Diego and Washington. So what?Â Well, think about it â€” the leagues and divisions are pretty artificial, so if things had worked out differently, and the Pirates wound up in the same division as those other three teams, then the Bucs would be in the playoffs, despite their record.
As Iâ€™ve mentioned here before â€” all too often â€” Pirate fans root without stress. No fretting about signing the top free agents; no worry that the best players will drift their way in the draft; no pennant fever, no Magic Number pain, and of course, we can enjoy October baseball without having to stay up late. We can set up the VCR and retire at our usual hour; I know if the Pirates were in the Playoffs, Iâ€™d be unable to do that.
As for this yearâ€™s races, I had shifted my accomplicing to the Cubs â€¦ it DOES seem like four months ago â€¦ and they held on. In the final weeks, I was pulling for the Phils, who also made it, and for the Mets â€” actually, I was more rooting against the Brewers, and my Met-fan friends had suffered enough last year, it seemed to me. Now THEY have a streak going, two near-misses, two stumbles at the finish line of the marathon. Bummer. In the AL, the Yankees finished out of the playoffs, and that is what I was rooting for hardest. Now I need to study up on Tampa and find out who these guys are. I find myself selfishly hoping for an all-Chicago World Series (who can forget 1906?) â€¦ but I guess I wouldnâ€™t mind seeing all the usual suspects get KOâ€™ed by the new kids in October.
But I am loving the extra games. What is more dramatic than the whole country of baseball shutting down, except for two teams who go at each other in sudden death?Â To be honest, I like the old NL playoff format better (best of three), but with three tiers of playoffs scheduled, the one-game face-off makes more sense. Mondayâ€™s game is technically a make-up game, of course, one team is already â€œdeadâ€ â€” so itâ€™s not THAT suspenseful. But wonâ€™t we all root for the â€œrightâ€ team to win, so we can do it one more time, letting the White Sox and Twins arm-wrestle for that last ticket on the October train?
Playoffs are in progress in my home these days, too, and the next installment follows without further ado. (Next issue: Indians versus Red Sox.)
SWEET SIXTEEN PLAYOFFS
Last issue, I introduced the â€œSweet Sixteenâ€ playoffs, and reported that in the first series, the Senators upset the Yankees in six games. The next bracket has the Detroit Tigers taking on the Chicago White Sox.
The Tigers have played just a single percentage point below the Yankees in my three simulated seasons; they finished on top in the second one, with 94 wins (in 154 games). Itâ€™s a fun team to manage, with a little of everything.
For example, Ty Cobb, a fabulous leadoff hitter. Behind him I bat the Mechanical Man, Charley Gehringer, who is ideal for the hit-and-run, when Cobb isnâ€™t stealing outright. (In APBA, the big base-stealers like Cobb or Maury Wills will go on their own, you donâ€™t signal them. But you can put on the bunt anytime, or hit-and-run in certain situations.) Then some power: Norm Cash (in 1961 form) and Hank Greenberg; they take turns at 1B and DH. To round out the outfield, I have Mr Tiger, Al Kaline; Cobbâ€™s old partner, Wahoo Sam Crawford; slugger Harry Heilmann; speedy Bobby Veach; and Kirk Gibson, without the limp. Infielders include George Kell or draftee Paul Molitor at 3B, Alan Trammell at SS, Travis Fryman SS/3B, and Rudy York for some pop off the bench. Catchers are Bill Freehan or Negro League draftee Louis â€œBig Berthaâ€ Santop, who has a bit less power and speed, but will get more hits than Freehan. If youâ€™re counting, thatâ€™s 16 position players; I decided after the first series, that nine pitchers would do just fine.
The Tiger starters are Denny McLain, in 30-win form; Hal Newhouser; Frank Tanana; and Fat Mickey Lolich. For long relief there are George Mullin, Wild Bill Donovan or Hank Aguirre; and for the last innings, Jeff Montgomery or John â€œRatsoâ€ Hiller.
The White Sox really struggled in my first simulated season, just 66 wins, but picked up some needed power in the later drafts. They have a strong 1-2 combo, much like the Tigers, with all-timer 2B Eddie Collins and SS Luke Appling; if the Sox need a run in the late innings, Louie Aparicio can steal a base and take over at short for defense. The Sox drafted 3B George Brett and Buck Leonard, who is no Lou Gehrig at bat, but heâ€™s close enough, and a point better in the field. With Buck at first, Frank Thomas can DH, and thatâ€™s a tough 3-4-5. After that, the outfielders are Minnie Minoso (in his eighties, but still a speedster); Carl Reynolds (he hit .359 with 22 HRs for the Sox in 1930); Harold Baines; Johnny Mostil (another speedster, with a gold glove); draftee George Bell; and Happy Felsch, who is just happy to be playing again. So is Buck Weaver. Another big bat on the bench is Edgar Martinez. Catching are Ray Schalk and Negro League find Biz Mackey, who has the edge over Schalk in power and base-stealing.
The Sox rotation starts with Big Ed Walsh, who won 40 a century ago this year; Eddie Cicotte, who gives his best effort if you pay him what he deserves; Wilbur Wood, another knuckler; and Frank Smith. The Sox drafted Dean Chance, who can go long in relief with Billy Pierce. The pen also includes Red Faber, and closers Tom Henke and Bob Thigpen. As I said last week, every staff is a collection of aces, making pitching a kind of constant.
GAME ONE, AT DETROIT
Ed Walsh and Denny McLain hooked up in a dandy opener, but neither were around to get the decision. McLain struggled early, getting help in the fourth when Appling led off with a single but was tossed out stealing. Brett, who doubled in the first, followed with a single, but couldnâ€™t get farther than second. The Tigers gave McLain a 2-0 lead in their second when Heilmann singled, and moved to third on a Santop double; Alan Trammellâ€™s double plated the runs. The Sox got one back in their fifth, when Minoso and Felsch singled, and Baines hit a sac fly. Walsh pitched out of trouble in the fourth, getting Kell to bounce out with two on and two out; and in the sixth, when the Tigers loaded the bases on singles by Kaline and Heilmann and a walk to Kell. Cobb in the clutch could only manage a fly to center.
The Sox tied the game in their 7th. Frank Thomas walked and Buck Weaver ran for the Big Hurt. Biz Mackey bounced out, moving Buck to second, and Minoso flied to right. Then Felsch came thru with a single, making it 2-2. The Tigers put two on with one out in the 8th, but couldnâ€™t score. In their 9th, Cobb led off with a double and Gehringer walked, but Cash grounded into a DP. Hank Greenberg walked, but Kaline flied out, sending the game into extra innings.
Both teams went down 1-2-3 in the 10, McLain notching his first strikeout, and Walsh his fourth. In the 11th, the Sox got Collins aboard with a walk and bunted him to second. Brett was walked intentionally, setting up the DP, but Buck Leonard moved the runners up with a slow grounder. A walk to Weaver loaded the bases and brought in John Hiller to face pinch-hitter Ray Schalk, whose fly to center was run down by Cobb. Sam Crawford pinch-hit in the Tiger 11th and walked, but was cut down stealing.
Then in the 12th, lightning struck. Minnie Minoso tagged Hiller for a home run, and after Felsch fanned, Harold Baines went deep to make it 4-2. Thigpen got Cash to start the Tiger 12th, but walked Greenberg. Then Al Kaline doubled Hank home, and it was 4-3. Thigpen got Veach to pop up, and was one out away from a win. But Santop smashed a line drive up the middle, which Thigpen stopped with his pitching hand. It went for a single, and Henke came in to get the last out. He intentionally walked Trammell, to load the bases. Paul Molitor pinch hit for Travis Fryman, and with the game on the line, his hit found an outfield gap to score the tying and winning runs. Tigers up, 1-0.
GAME TWO, AT DETROIT
The Sox were no doubt upset at letting the first game get away, and came out smoking against Hal Newhouser. Luke Appling singled and after Brett grounded out, Buck Leonard singled Appling in. Frank Thomas followed with a long HR and it was 3-0. After Mackey singled, Minoso homered; 5-0. In the second, Eddie Collins singled and walked him on a Brett homer. When Buck Leonard followed with another smash, the Soxâ€™ 4th, making it 8-0, George Mullin took over. Mullin held the Sox to three hits and no runs the rest of the way, but the damage was done.
The Tigers slugged three homers off Eddie Cicotte, back-to-backers by Kaline and Heilmann in the 2nd, and another solo by Hank Greenberg in the 4th, but Cicotte yielded just two other hits and won handily, 8-3. Greenberg had an RBI double, too.
GAME THREE, AT CHICAGO
With the Series now even, the Tigers sent Frank Tanana out against Wilbur Wood. And they gave Tanana an early lead, Cash homering in the first with Cobb aboard on a walk, and Trammell hitting a 2-run HR in the second. In the 4th, Trammell singled with one out, and singles by Molitor and Cobb scored a run; a sac fly by Gehringer scored another, making it 6-0. Gehringer sewed up the game with a bases-loaded single in the 8th, 8-0. Tanana gave up just a single in the first four innings; he escaped a threat in the 6th, getting Mackey with two on and two out; and in the 8th, when the Sox loaded the bases with one out, but couldnâ€™t score, Minoso grounding out to end the inning. Tanana fanned seven and shared the shutout with Aguirre, who got the last five outs. Frank Thomas was on base four times, a single and three walks.
GAME FOUR, AT CHICAGO
Denny McLain and Ed Walsh, who dueled so well in the first game, went at it again in Game Four. And again, both were at their best. Walsh scattered four hits over the first eight innings, shutting down the Tigers while fanning eight, including Cash, Greenberg and Crawford in the 4th. McLain was nearly as good, giving up six hits. With Frank Thomas aboard on a single in the second, Felsch doubled, and the Tigers pulled the infield in; Carl Reynolds hit it hard but right at Gehringer, who tossed home to nail Thomas, and Schalk popped up to end the threat.
In the 8th, both teams threatened but failed to score. Alan Trammell led off with a single and stole second. Kell pinch hit and lined one up the middle, but Walsh snagged it and doubled Trammell off 2nd. Cobb followed with a single that would have scored Trammell. Walsh then picked off Cobb to end the inning; three hard hits, no runs, none left on base! In the home 8th, Buck Leonard tripled with two out, but McLain fanned Thomas.
The Tigers picked up where they left off. Gehringer walked, but Walsh got Cash to bounce into a 4-6-3 DP. But Greenberg worked Walsh for a base on balls, and Sam Crawford followed with a single. That brought up Harry Heilmann, who drove home the only runs of the game with a clutch double to left-center. McLain ended the game with a 1-2-3 ninth, notching his 8th and 9th strikeouts,
GAME FIVE, AT CHICAGO
With their backs now to the wall, the Sox sent out Eddie Cicotte, winner of Game Two. The Tigers countered with Mickey Lolich, and Trammell gave him a 2-0 lead with a 2nd-inning HR following Heilmannâ€™s single. Frank Thomasâ€™ long clout in the Sox 2nd made it 2-1, but Cicotte could not hold the Tigers. Harry Heilmann tripled with one out in the 4th, and Trammell walked. Cicotte got Bill Freehan to pop up, but walked George Kell to load the bases for Ty Cobb. Cobb responded with a two-run single, then stole second, and scored a minute later on Gehringerâ€™s two-run single, making it 6-1 Tigers.
But the Sox would not roll over. George Brett homered in the 6th after Appling singled, making it 6-3. In the 7th, Reynolds singled and Collins walked with one out. Applingâ€™s hit made it 6-4 and Brettâ€™s sac fly trimmed the Tiger lead to one run. Meanwhile, Dean Chance, who came on in the 4th, had held Detroit to one runner, Trammellâ€™s 6th-inning single.
The Sox tied the game in the 8th. Frank Thomas opened the frame with a double and Buck Weaver ran. Minoso bunted Buck to third, and with the infield in, Happy Felsch squeezed Weaver home, reliever Mullin making the play. Carl Reynolds followed with a triple, but Mackey grounded to Kell to end the inning.
Chance had retired nine in a row, but pinch-hitter Al Kaline tagged him for a triple to start the ninth. After Kell bounced back to the mound for the first out, Chance walked Cobb on purpose. But Gehringer came through with a line single to right, breaking the tie. Billy Pierce came in to get Cash to hit into a double-play. Eddie Collins started the home 9th with a walk, and then stole second. Appling bunted him to third. Brett drew a walk. But Mullin fanned Buck Leonard, and got Buck Weaver to ground out, stranding Collins at third. 7-6 Tigers, and they will move on to play the Senators in the next round.
Although the Tigers won in five games, three of their wins were close and could have easily gone to the Sox. The Sox held Cobb to just five hits in the Series, but his last one, in Game Five, was a killer, coming with two outs and opening the door to four runs. Hank Greenberg managed just two hits, both in the Tiger Game Two loss, and Norm Cash had just four, and two RBIs. The Sox actually out-homered the Tigers, 8-6, but couldnâ€™t get the big hits when they needed them. The Tigers won the three close games, with the Game One 12-th inning rally being the one that must have hurt most. Iâ€™m already looking forward to the duels between Cobb and Walter Johnson.