By Matt Spiegel-
(CBS) Assuming the Bears are not involved, I choose October baseball over October football every time. It’s about games of consequence.
Here are some Bloop Hits, sights seen and lessons learned in the playoffs so far:
Dominating 9th Without K’s
As the Orioles tied their series with the Yankees 1-1, closer Jim Johnson had a memorable first two games.
Sunday, he was awful. In a non-save situation, he gave up five runs, four earned, and the Yankees took a one game lead in the best of five.
Monday, we saw how Johnson got 51 saves this season.
In the ninth inning of yet another Orioles one-run game, Johnson got three future Hall of Famers out in order to end it. Jeter, Ichiro, and A-Rod don’t need full names to be recognized, but down they went.
Johnson is an atypical closer in many ways. He sported a 1.02 WHIP, and a solid ERA, but struck out just 41 in 68.2 innings pitched. That K rate is far and away the lowest among any pitcher with 30 saves in MLB. He pitches to contact.
Watch him and you see how he functions. His hard sinker looks an awful lot like a two-seam fastball, with some of the absolute filthiest left-to-right movement you will ever see. Truthfully, the pitch is somewhere in between the two.
He throws a four-seamer without that movement; both of them hit 96 with regularity, so batters don’t know which of the hard ones they’re getting.
It’s why his ground ball rate hovers at an amazing 62 percent, and good contact happens so rarely.
Late Monday night, Orioles starter Tommy Hunter explained Jim Johnson’s nickname among his teammates.
He’s “The Janitor.” Why? “They’re never very happy, and they always clean up everybody else’s s#@t.”
I Tire Of Their Existence, But The Cardinals Don’t Care
They’re not in it for our entertainment.
Even with annoying, brilliant (just ask him) Tony LaRussa gone, I have found myself hoping the Cardinals go away. It’s the sensation of having seen them so many times in recent years, and a lack of belief in their ability to truly compete with the elite.
Well, I’m clearly wrong on the latter, and so far unrewarded on the former.
That lineup is full of competent, if not excellent hitters. Carlos Beltran, through his first 25 games, had the best slugging percentage of anyone in the history of the game. Allen Craig is healthy and looking like the guy who had four homers, four walks, and eight RBI last postseason. With Matt Holliday, Yadier Molina and World Series MVP David Freese, the Cardinals will be able to hit themselves into any game.
The Nats split in St. Louis and now go back to D.C, pretending they don’t wish Stephen Strasburg was in this series.
St. Louis seems not to be intent on getting out of my playoffs anytime soon.
Road Team Advantage, A Dominating Ace And A Really Weird Smooch
The two-three format for the first round has most benefited the Detroit Tigers.
Justin Verlander did what he had never done in the post-season: be himself. In his ninth start, he gave up fewer than three runs for the first time, with 11 K’s in a Game 1 win. Doug Fister was great in Game 2, which the Tigers won in the ninth. The back and forth Game 2 was the best of these playoffs so far.
So Oakland has to bounce back and win the last three, assuming they can even force a Game 5. It’s a grand injustice that winning six more games, in a far tougher division, gets rewarded with a challenge.
They had their chances to grab a split, and the Reds have shown in San Francisco that if you play better, you can overcome the disadvantage. But the system should change. Make it two-two-one, with Game 4 scheduled as a day game to facilitate the potential travel.
Meanwhile Al Alburquerque provided one of the weirdest, and most romantic, moment of the playoffs with a loving smooch of a baseball. Alburquerque kissed the ball before throwing to first to retire Yoenis Cespedes in a key Game 2 at bat.
I guess Mark Fidrych laid the groundwork, loosening the ball up with his smooth talk, and Alburquerque scored with it 36 years later.
Seems like harmless, very odd fun. But you wonder if the A’s will over-react to it with a beaning or inside heat, looking desperately for a spark.
No MLB At Bat Is Not Paying Me A Dime
But I can’t help but sing its praises, especially in the postseason.
Video streaming is free during all playoff games, on a smartphone, a tablet, or PC. But it’s not just the game broadcast. You actually can’t get the game broadcast.
What you can watch is about six different varieties of pre-production camera feeds. I prefer “Quad Mode,” with four camera angles simultaneously on my screen, including the centerfield shot and behind the plate. It’s like being in the TV production truck, hearing all the live audio, but seeing the game in a different way.
It’s a great answer to the one-television dilemma that plagues most of not named Dan McNeil.
Listen to Matt Spiegel on 670 The Score weekdays from 9am–1pm CT on The McNeil & Spiegel Show and Sundays from 9am–Noon CT on Hit And Run.