The Los Angeles Dodgers became the first team to advance to the Championship Series last night. They defeated the St Louis Cardinals 5-1 to complete a three-game sweep, marking themselves out as genuine World Series contenders in the process. The Dodgers will meet one of the Philadelphia Phillies and Colorado Rockies in the NLCS, although the postponement of their game yesterday, with the series tied 1-1, means we are still a way off knowing which it will be.
The ALCS lineup could be decided within the next twenty-four hours as the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels both need one more win to clinch a sweep. The mysteries of the Metrodome and the Red Sox’s recent history of mounting comebacks give fans in Minnesota and Boston, as well as us neutrals, hope that the divisional series could yet hold more twists and turns.
Missed opportunities and mistakes
The outcome of every ballgame is usually decided by which team makes the most of the opportunities that come their way. The cut-throat nature of the postseason magnifies every one of those opportunities and the Dodgers-Cardinals NLDS emphasises the point. The Cardinals managed a paltry 4-for-30 with runners in scoring position and their batters don’t need telling that such a performance is likely to send any team to an early exit. However, there’s always two sides to any situation. Where one batting team fails, the pitching and defense on the other side will take pride in bearing down in the crucial spots. Did one team ‘choke’ or did the other give them little chance to come through with a big hit? It really depends on your own viewpoint.
There’s no doubt that the big play came in game two when Matt Holliday did his best Frank Spencer impression (not in the ‘ooh Betty’ way) and clunked a relatively simple catching chance that would have ended the contest in the Cardinals’ favour 2-1. Yet again, you’ve got to take the other side into account. Holliday’s gaffe didn’t directly hand the Dodgers the win; they still worked two walks and two hits with two outs to score the two runs they needed to walk-off with the 3-2 victory. They were fortunate to get another opportunity, but the point is that they took it.
That same line of thinking can be applied to game two of the Twins-Yankees series. It was an absolute thriller, the sort of game that will be remembered for many years to come, however much fans in Minnesota would like to be able to forget about it. The game had everything, great closers being hit for runs, dramatic homers and even a spot of controversy. The Twins have every right to regret the left-field umpire’s incorrect call in the top of the eleventh inning on Joe Mauer’s shot down the left-field line. The ball landed far enough fair that you couldn’t excuse the mistake and as the inning panned out, you could argue that the Twins were ultimately denied a run.
But how that inning panned out rested on many other plays. Minnesota went on to have the bases loaded with no outs and they failed to score a single run, or the Yankees stopped them from doing so depending on how you want to look at it. And then Jose Mijares made a mistake against Mark Teixeira, laying in a 2-1 fastball right down the middle of the plate. The Yankees’ first baseman might have been early on it, hooking it foul and levelling the count at 2-2. Instead, he put a good swing on the ball and kept it fair. Mijares gave him the opportunity, but Teixeira still had to take it and boy did he ever.
A useful baseball lesson
Game Two was also notable for the base-running blunder by Carlos Gomez. The play provided a useful lesson for fans relatively new to the sport in the process, clarifying a rule that took me a little while to get my head around when I first started following baseball.
With two outs, Gomez slipped after rounding second and his instinct was to try and scramble back to the base where he was tagged out by Derek Jeter. That in itself could be considered unlucky, but the mistake element came from the fact that Delmon Young was just about to cross home plate. Had Gomez been more aware, he could have got into a rundown which would have allowed the run to score. The rule is, if the third out is a ‘force’ play (the player in question was ‘forced’ to advance to the base they are going to), the run will not stand even if the runner crosses home plate before the third out is recorded. This is most often seen when a man is on third and the batter grounds out. Even if the baserunner has a big lead and crosses home before the force out is made (at first, for example) the run does not count. If it’s not a force play, and Gomez wasn’t forced to go to third as he was attempting in this case, the run will stand so long as it is scored before the tag is made.
The Angels are on the verge of reversing a recent trend of falling to the Red Sox in the ALDS, but their previous disappointments will ensure that they will not let their 2-0 series lead affect their play. The Red Sox will be cheered on by the Fenway faithful knowing that a win today gets them firmly back into the series. Scott Kazmir and Clay Buchholz are on the mound with first pitch scheduled for 17.07 BST.
The other two games take place later on. The Twins need to make the Metrodome work to their advantage (00.07), while the Phillies and Rockies will resume their close battle so long as snow doesn’t get in the way again (03.07).