Pitching Reigns in October

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Pitching Reigns in October! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The World Series matchup is set. The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Two storied franchises competing against each other. The ratings will be high, well higher than usual.  It’s a rematch of the 2004 World Series where the Red Sox swept and broke the Curse of the Bambino. Truth be told, this World Series is a real treat, and on paper one of the best ones in recent memory. Both teams have big-time hitters, but it was the pitchers that dominated the League Championship Series. The adage, “good pitching beats good hitting,” came to fruition and showed who reigns supreme on a baseball diamond.

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We had two phenomenal matchups in the League Championship Series with the Dodgers-Cardinals and Red Sox-Tigers. At a glance, many experts agreed that the Dodgers had a better pitching staff than the Cards with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke against Adam Wainwright and a bevy of young pitchers. Many experts picked the Tigers to win it all with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez over veterans Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Well the experts were right that the better pitching staff won, but it just was not the ones they thought were better.

Game 1 in the Cardinals-Dodgers series shaped the tone for the entire series. Greinke faced rookie Joe Kelly in one of many pitchers duels in the LCS. The Dodgers and Cardinals each scored twice in the third inning. Zeroes hung on the scoreboard the rest of the way like Christmas tree ornaments. The Dodgers did what they did for many parts of the season. They got runners on, they got them over, but could not get them in. They even had a runner thrown out at home in the top of the 10th by Carlos Beltran, whose big two-run double tied the game at 2. And to seal the deal, Beltran roped a double down the line for the game-winning hit to win 3-2 and commence a great set of LCS games. The lead in the series was up for grabs and the Cardinals took it and never looked back.

In Game 2, the Dodgers put out their best pitcher, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, but it was another pitcher who made a name for himself. Michael Wacha, another rookie for the Cardinals, outpitched Kershaw in a 1-0 ballgame. This was not a soccer game, but it felt like it when the Cardinals scored their only goal, I mean run. The Cardinals had all the momentum heading to Los Angeles, but they got blanked by the rookie this time for Game 3. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched beautifully and beat the Cardinals 3-0. Are you sensing a theme with these recaps yet?

Michael-Wacha

A big hit actually took place in Game 4 when Matt Holliday hit a mammoth two-run homer to help the Cardinals beat the Dodgers 4-2. A two-run lead felt like a blowout given the circumstances. The Cardinals’ World Series berth was put on hold when Greinke dealt and the Dodgers finally got some big hits, taking Game 5, 6-4. Going back to St. Louis with the Cardinals up 3-2, everyone felt Game 7 was inevitable with Kershaw on the mound again. However, people forgot about the real ace of this series, Wacha.

Yes, his last name sounds like a Russian’s favorite liquor, but the only thing strong about Wacha is his arm and his pitches. He continued to dominate the Dodger lineup while Kershaw had an inning to forget. The Cardinals batted around in the fourth, tallying four runs, and in essence, punching their ticket to the 2013 World Series. They won 9-0. In six games, the Dodgers scored 13 runs and pretty much half of them came in Game 5. Not even the antics and over-the-top emotions of Yasiel Puig could carry the Dodgers. His flaws were exposed by a gritty Cardinals team, and so were the rest of the Dodgers. Wacha, a pitcher, was named NLCS MVP, and we might just be seeing the tip of the iceberg with this young stud.

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The Dodgers made one of the most amazing turnarounds during the regular season and brought baseball excitement back to L.A. However, in the end, the Cardinals reminded us that baseball is a team sport and the team that spends the most money is not usually the one who wins. The Cardinals proved to have the best pitching, and consequently, they are now in great position to win the 2013 World Series.

In the ALCS, The Tigers and Red Sox boasted two of the most potent offenses in baseball. What a joke! The only crooked numbers seen in this series were strikeouts and number of beards, and there were many of them on both sides. There were two 1-0 games. This is mind boggling to a guy who has watched the Tigers and Red Sox score at will like an Oregon football team playing Arkansas State all year. But it still happened.  Good pitching happened. The Red Sox lost Game 1 1-0. Enough said. Those are the highlights. In all seriousness,  Sanchez pitched effectively wild and did not allow a hit in six innings pitched. In fact, the Red Sox got their first hit in the bottom of the 9th to break up the no hitter.

Game 2 will go down as one of the gems of this postseason. Down 5-0 in the bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox again got their first hit late in the ballgame  when Shane Victorino broke up Scherzer’s no hit bid. This led to their first run of the series. Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the 8th, the Red Sox loaded the bases for David Ortiz. And the Red Sox version of Beltran did it again. On the first pitch, he cracked a line drive over the right field wall to dramatically tie the game with a grand slam. Torii Hunter missed the catch and flipped over the short wall like a gymnast. It was electric. Even Stephen King got scared in attendance with the eeriness in the air. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 9th to win 6-5 and in hindsight, win the series for the Red Sox.

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Returning to Detroit, momentum was up in the air, but the Tigers felt confident throwing their ace Verlander out on the bump. The Red Sox countered with Lackey. Verlander was dominant, surrendering only one mistake to Mike Napoli in the 7th. a home run that barely cleared the fence in left. And that led to another 1-0 game. Lackey ousted the ace, like Wacha did. The Tigers could not deliver the clutch hits, like the Dodgers. The Tigers did tie up the series by roughing up Peavy in Game 4. They won 7-3, the only non-competitive game in the series, and it led to a pivotal Game 5. The Red Sox jumped to an early 4-0 lead and grinded out a 4-3 win. Closer Koji Uehara got five outs for the save and halted any chances of a Tiger comeback.

Down 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston, the Tigers still felt optimistic with Scherzer and Verlander lined up to pitch. Game 6 featured another grand performance from an unlikely hero. Pitching dominated again.  Through six innings, the Tigers led 2-1. In the bottom of the 7th, the Red Sox fans found the bases juiced with Victorino up to bat and then the unthinkable happened.  No he did not shave his beard before his at bat, but he smacked another Red Sox grand slam, this time over the Green Monster in left. Uehara closed the deal again for his third save in the series. Not to mention, he won the other game when the Red Sox walked off in Game 2. The Red Sox won in 6 games advancing to the World Series and Uehara, a closer, yet alone a pitcher, was named MVP of the ALCS.

Jon Lester

The Red Sox and the Cardinals batted poorly throughout the LCS, but they got the hits when they counted. It was their pitching that carried them to the World Series. Each team featured emerging stars winning MVPs. Wacha on the front end. He beat Kershaw and shutout the Dodgers twice.  Those two feats alone in one series are reason enough to retire. And Uehara impacted every single game the Red Sox won against the Tigers, winning one and saving three games. The entire country of Japan has new requested membership to Red Sox Nation.

It is usually the hitters that get the awards. Hitters get the highlights. The home runs and game-winning hits. Hitters are the ones that play every game and provide the most impact. However, the only thing the bats have been touching these playoffs are the racks after recording outs, and lots of them. The final four teams had the best pitchers in baseball. The Cardinals and Red Sox might not have better pitchers than the Tigers or Dodgers, but they pitched better in the LCS, when it mattered most. Their bullpens were better. Their closers were better. And now we, as fans, are better off with this fantastic matchup for this year’s World Series. Two respected and admirable teams facing off in late October.  What could be better than this? Seven games would be a nice early Christmas gift. Will the pitching dominance continue to trend or will the hitters get the last laugh? This baseball fan is eager to watch and see. Stay tuned.

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Paul Culley
Guest Sports Activist for The Cover 4

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The New Red Sox Nation

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The Curse of the Bambino? That’s old news. The Red Sox now are the cream of the crop these days in the Major Leagues, which is a long way since their days of misery and woe. With the Sox finally breaking through and winning the World Series in  2004 and repeating in 2007, they began a new era in New England. Winning, however, leads to higher standards and expectations. If not handled correctly, you can lose your identity in this transitional process.

Look at the Chicago Cubs. They are nicknamed the lovable losers because losing is the expectation on the North Side of Chicago. Cubs fans accept the fact that the Cubs are not supposed to be good, and it is OK. When you go to a cheap horror film these days, you still enjoy the movie even though you know chances are you are not really going to get scared. Mistakes and bad breaks are supposed to happen at Wrigley Field, and this is the culture that has existed there since 1908. This same ideology existed for the people of Fenway Park, but not anymore for the Red Sox after breaking through in October. They had created a new standard of winning and could finally give the New York Yankees a run for their money, literally. However this new winning environment comes with dangerous territory.

The staple of the Red Sox teams that won  two World Series was grittiness, toughness and hustle. Nicknamed the idiots, led by caveman-looking Johnny Damon and Kevin Millar, this group of guys represented all hard-working class people. They were not pretty boys like Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. They sported beards, probably didn’t brush their teeth and grinded everything out like it was their last day on Earth. Instead of dating celebrities like Cameron Diaz and Jordana Brewster, most Red Sox players preferred bromances and men’s stags. You could tell. They had fun. They fought until the very end. And they won.

This hard-nosed persona however seemed to change over time. With winning comes fame and media attention. The phrase sell-out comes to mind when I think of the non-famous getting famous. Led by Terry Francona, the Red Sox became lazy and strayed away from the ways that brought them success. Those beards were being shaved making us realize why they weren’t dating those aforementioned. The inmates started to realize that they were good, and bought too much into their own hype. They lost their identity and started to run the asylum themselves.

They “shed their beard” when they lost Damon and Millar to free agency. Ironically Damon went to the Yankees, definitely not selling out (sarcasm intended). David Ortiz was still there, but steroid rumors were circling around his name like vultures to a desert carcass. Jonathan Papelbon was becoming more known for his media outrages on social topics than closing games. Josh Beckett and John Lackey had VIP access to the disabled list, finally showing the treads on their tires. Rumor had it that some of players would be drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during the games. Even for the idiots, that was dumb given this era of social media. From the naked eye, winning wasn’t as important as it used to be.

The Red Sox tried signing big free agents like Carl Crawford in a Yankee-like move, but this proved to be unsuccessful. They even invested in the Japanese phenom pitcher, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Sure he showed flashes of brilliance, but injuries and declining stuff yielded a poor return on investment. Injuries and blowing leads seemed to be the new theme for the Sox. The team chemistry was falling apart and it was plain for every fan to see. The team eventually fired Francona, who found a new home in broadcasting before landing another manager gig in Cleveland this year.

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In an effort to bring in a new voice for this team, the Red Sox hired former Mets manager Bobby Valentine last year. But despite his last name, there was very little love shared amongst the team. Valentine is a candid fellow, and openly criticized his players to the media often, which rubbed a lot of them the wrong way. And when he went after the heart and soul of the team in Dustin Pedroia, the fans started to turn against the new leader of the pack. Combined with more losing, the Valentine experiment was aborted after only one year. He has been rumored to attend some Red Sox games this year, but wears a fake moustache and glasses to disguise himself. However, the real disguise was looming over the Red Sox organization. Their new era of a winning expectation was not working, and the machine needed to be tweaked.

The Red Sox went back to the basics. Out with the old and in with the new. They shipped out Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett to the Dodgers. Papelbon signed with the Phillies. The got less flashy and started to revamp their team to resemble more of those idiots. They signed Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino as undervalued free agents and they have been a perfect fit in Boston. They went from having one Drew brother in J.D. to another one in Stephen. They went within the division to hire their new manager.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Toronto Blue Jays

The new sheriff in town was John Farrell. Farrell is a strong silent type who leads by example, and is now a leading candidate for Manager of the Year. Big Papi is back, crushing home runs (and telephones), leading this team to a playoff berth with co-captain Pedoria. They have homegrown prospects in Daniel Nava, Will Middlebrooks, and Felix Doubront, contributing to the cause. Their pitching is led by ace Jon Lester, who is pitching like Sandy Koufax. Lackey must have gone on the Subway diet because he is thin, healthy and throwing cheese to the hitters. Their bullpen is comprised of a bunch of no-namers who just come in, gets outs and do their job. They acquired veteran Jake Peavy at the trade deadline, a common staple of any contending team. More symbolically, the beards are back. Johnny Gomes and Napoli are the new cavemen for the team, illustrating that tough and gritty mentality of the team is back in full force.

The Boston Red Sox have one of the best records in baseball this year. They are running away with the AL East and set up for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and another World Series title. They are playing fundamental baseball. Working the count, hustling, cheering for teammates and most importantly, having fun doing it. The players are no longer bigger than the game, but vice versa. The Red Sox are resembling those teams that broke the Curse of the Bambino. They dropped the tuxedos and Gucci sunglasses and put on their cargo jeans and working boots. They lost their identity and tried to be a group of people they were definitely not. Leave those shenanigans to the Yankees boys. They might not be the idiots we fell in love with in years past, but they are on their way to re-branding a new version of hard work, team play and scrappiness for Red Sox Nation.

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Thank you for reading The Cover 4! Don’t forget to follow us on Facebook & Twitter.

Oh yeah, tell your friends too!

Paul Culley
Sports Activist for The Cover 4
http://www.facebook.com/thecover4
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