Willie, Willie what were you thinking? All year long you’ve made shrewd moves, blowing away the rest of the National League with a limited starting rotation but great hitting and a terrific bullpen. The St. Louis Cardinals, a team that backed into the playoffs and finished some 14 games behind you in the standings, is suddenly playing excellent ball and getting mostly great starting pitching in the playoffs. They have taken your Mets to a seventh and deciding game, but you’re home at Shea and have all the momentum behind you, including winning game 6 to even the series at 3 – 3. Home teams have won something like 11 games in a row in a similar position.
Your questionable starter has given you a tremendous 5+ innings, and your replacement left fielder has kept you in the game by robbing Scott Rolen of a 2-run go-ahead home run in the 6th with one of the greatest catches in playoff history. But you’ve fallen behind 3 – 1 in the 9th inning off a 2-run homer that does clear the wall, and now it’s the bottom of the 9th. Your first two hitters both single off the young closer for the Cards (your team’s first hits since the 1st inning by the way), and with no one out, the obvious move is to sacrifice the runners over to 2nd and 3rd and give the Mets two chances to tie it up with a base hit. So what do you do? After all those years as a New York Yankee player and coach, and with visions of Kirk Gibson dancing in your head, you pinch hit a gimpy Cliff Floyd to go for the win. With everything on the line, you elect not to bunt and play smart NL “small ball” and instead regress to the 3-run HR mentality of the Bronx Bombers and other teams in the AL. You’re a classy guy and a fine manager, but that decision was so wrong it’s incredible.
Game, set, match. Floyd doesn’t adavance the runners, and with bases loaded and two outs, Carlos Beltran (who had a fine series) strikes out looking (ouch!) on a great breaking ball. So the two teams that finished the regular season with a thud by going 19 – 31 and 22 – 28 their last 50 games, the two teams that everyone wanted to play in the playoffs, are headed to the World Series. And the two NY teams that tied with the best record in baseball are now sitting at home to ponder what went wrong. Congratulations to the Tigers and the Cardinals–great starting pitching does seem to trump all else after all.
My pick (but don’t bet on it, especially this year): Detroit in 6