Sunday, October 20, 2013

This Game's Fun

I'd hemmed and hawed a lot over who to pick in the ALCS if only because it pitted a pair of teams that on paper were quite evenly matched. I had to dig a little deeper to arrive at the decision to pick the Red Sox, if only because they're a team built of real grinders, guys who peck and scrape and battle tooth and nail to the end. The Red Sox went out and proved this to a tee in their 6-game series win over the Tigers. Though the Tigers starting pitching proved every bit as good as they're written up to be, the Sox hitters ground them down and eventually forced tight games into the hands of the Tigers excessively shaky bullpen, and ultimately they found ways to prevail.

It was a different hero every day for the Red Sox, which is generally how the most successful teams do it. David Ortiz, who's made a career out of big hits in October, did it last Sunday night, hitting a spectacular game-tying Grand Slam in the 8th inning that sent Torii Hunter flying into the bullpen and setting the stage for Jarrod Saltalamacchia's winning hit in the 9th. In Detroit, the Sox beat Justin Verlander 1-0 on a Mike Napoli Home Run and in Game 5, they relied on their bullpen to carry home a 4-3 victory.

This set the stage for last night's Game 6, a real Major League ballgame that featured a little bit of everything; great pitching, clutch hitting, controversial plays, serious momentum swings and one huge, memorable moment, which was provided by Shane Victorino. I could tell it was that kind of game when it had hit the 3 hour mark in the top of the 7th inning. By this point, Max Scherzer had done just about everything he could to try to carry his team to a 7th game and a shot for Verlander (or, more appropriately, the exact opposite of the complete bed-shitting Clayton Kershaw did on Friday). His offense had done very little in support of him, save for a 2-run single from Victor Martinez. This was promptly followed by the rarely seen 4-4-2 Double Play, where Prince Fielder completely vapor-locked on an infield ground ball, allowing Pedroia to tag out Martinez and then throw home to get Fielder in a rundown, which he ended by pulling a Lucas Duda and belly-flopping not particularly close to 3rd Base. But, despite all that, the Tigers still had a 2-1 lead.

Unfortunately, Scherzer's weakness is that he's only been conditioned for 7 innings or so of work. Jim Leyland has never nursed him further. Plus the Red Sox, as is their wont, had made him throw an awful lot of pitches, and in pressure situations. So, after he walked Xander Bogaerts in the 7th, he was gone, and the game unraveled for the Tigers from there, culminating with Victorino's Grand Slam that ultimately won the game and sent the Red Sox on to the World Series

I'd mentioned at the beginning of the ALCS that the Red Sox were sort of unlikeable, and that I get why people don't like them. But I don't consider myself one of them. I'm not a great lover of Boston, and maybe the main reason I like the Red Sox is because of the common dislike of a particular team. But I didn't have a hard time pulling for them against Detroit, and I'm certainly going to be pulling for them in the World Series. They have a similar team to the Cardinals, built around unheralded pitching and hitters that bug the hell out of you. Hell, they've even made me admit appreciation for my main man Shane Victorino, who I've spent years trashing because of how many times he got clutch hits or made important plays when he played for Philly. The difference is, I like it a lot more when he's not doing it for the Phillies. When he hits a Grand Slam and pounds his chest around the bases for the Red Sox, it's OK. He's an emotional guy and that's always been his game, and that's absolutely a double-standard because I hate the Phillies.

That should illustrate the difference between these two teams. A friend said to me after Saturday's game ended that "The Cards look like a team of quiet professionals. The Red Sox look like a team of destiny." The Cardinals seem to have taken on the feel of a particular team I don't like very much, and given that I didn't like the Cardinals much to begin with, it makes me like them even less. The Red Sox play the same kind of game, but you can see them enjoying it. I'm sure that if the Cardinals spent so much time bitching and moaning about the Dodgers, someone will chime in about the bunch of ragamuffins on the Red Sox. Maybe. One of the problems these holier-than-thou teams have is an inability to keep their mouths shut. Sometimes it can backfire. It didn't happen to the Cardinals in the NLCS. But the Red Sox have proven they're a better, headier team than the Dodgers. This will be a really interesting World Series to watch. It's probably going to come down to whatever team blinks first on any given night. But I don't think much guesswork is involved when it comes to who I'm picking: Sox in 7.

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