Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Another day, another chance for heroes
By David Schoenfield
How can we possibly top a day like Monday? I'm not sure it quite beats that crazy final day of the 2011 regular season for the unofficial title of "Greatest Single Day of Gut-Wrenching and Heart-Stopping Baseball Frenzy," but the four games on Monday provided a gluttony of baseball drama. By the end of the night, well past midnight on the East Coast, I was drained, like I had gone straight from a Thanksgiving feast to an all-you-can-eat buffet.
The best part of all this? We've had a few hours of sleep and there's more baseball to play. Who will be today's heroes when the A's play the Tigers and the Red Sox play the Rays? Let's see if they can match Monday's list of protagonists:
- Juan Uribe, journeyman infielder. He's a guy many wanted the Dodgers to release in the offseason after hitting .199 over his previous two seasons. The fun thing about Uribe: Every fly ball he hits he acts like it's going 450 feet. On Monday night, he added the little bat flip as he crushed David Carpenter's hanging slider for the go-ahead home run. Maybe it didn't quite go 450 feet, but it went far enough.
- Freddy Garcia, retread veteran right-hander. The Padres released Garcia in spring training. The Orioles gave him 10 starts and cut bait. Decimated by injuries to Tim Hudson and Brandon Beachy and then Paul Maholm's struggles, Garcia made three good starts for the Braves in September, and there he was, starting a do-or-die playoff game. And he left with a 3-2 lead.
- Clayton Kershaw, superduperstar. Pitching on three days' rest for the first time in his career, Kershaw pitched six innings and allowed just two unearned runs. With better defense behind him, he goes six scoreless innings or maybe seven. An older generation saw Koufax; we have Kershaw.
- Jose Lobaton, obscure backup catcher. In the game after Jose Molina had been pinch hit for, Lobaton has just nine career home runs. He hit the unhittable Koji Uehara -- who had given up just one run and 10 hits over his previous 38 innings -- drilling a split-fingered fastball at the knees into the fish tank in right-center field. A good pitch from Uehara, a better at-bat from Lobaton (who said he was looking for "something soft" on the pitch).
- Evan Longoria, superstar third baseman. His three-run homer earlier in the game got the Rays back in it after falling behind 3-0. Longoria is a .198 hitter in 29 career postseason games, but he does have nine home runs and 21 RBIs.
- Michael Wacha, rookie stud. In just his 10th career start, Wacha took a no-hitter into the eighth inning for the Cardinals. Including his near no-hitter in his final regular-season start, which he lost with two outs in the ninth on an infield single, batters are 2-for-50 off him his past two starts. Trivia: The Cardinals got him with a compensation pick from the Angels for losing Albert Pujols as a free agent.
- Stephen Vogt, minor league journeyman. A game after a delivering the winning hit in the ninth inning, Vogt tripled and scored to help the A's again. Vogt reached the majors last season with the Rays at age 27 -- and went 0-for-25. The A's acquired him in April for Triple-A catching insurance, and when John Jaso suffered a season-ending concussion, Vogt was pressed into service.
This is postseason baseball. The best player on the team may rise to the occasion, or the 25th guy may need to come through.
On Tuesday, the A's and Red Sox will try to close out their series. Oakland starts rookie Dan Straily against a Tigers lineup that has scored just six runs in three games -- with those six runs coming in just two innings. In 25 of 27 innings, they haven't scored. Miguel Cabrera is obviously ineffective; he can't run, and injuries have sapped his power. Going back to August, he has just two extra-base hits in his past 93 at-bats (three singles in this series). I think there's a case to be made that the Tigers are better off with Cabrera on the bench -- they could play Jhonny Peralta at third and Andy Dirks in left, improving their defense at two positions -- but Jim Leyland keeps hoping that Cabrera will run into something. It's not necessarily the wrong decision, but you have to be objective and the evidence suggests Cabrera isn't healthy enough to help right now.
Straily is primarily a fastball/slider guy with a few changeups and curves mixed in. Batters hit just .187 off the slider, so look for that pitch when he gets to two strikes. If Peralta plays left field again, that means the Tigers are running out just three left-handed hitters in Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez and Alex Avila. I like this matchup for Straily considering the Tigers haven't been scoring many runs in the past month and have a righty-heavy lineup that Straily may be able to exploit.
Doug Fister still rates the edge on the pitching matchup, but if this turns into a bullpen game, that favors the A's, as we saw in Game 2 when Leyland used the shaky Al Alburquerque in the ninth inning of a tie game. The A's clearly have the edge on defense and on the bases, so Detroit's best outcome is probably seven strong innings from Fister, followed by Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit.
The Boston-Tampa Bay game features Jake Peavy and Jeremy Hellickson, and this one could come down to how long each manager goes with his starter. You have to think Joe Maddon will have a quick hook on Hellickson, who had a 5.17 ERA and got knocked out before the sixth inning in seven of his final 10 starts. I can't imagine Hellickson going more than four or five innings, even if he's pitching well. Game 1 starter Matt Moore (on three days' rest) or Chris Archer would be the likely guy in the middle innings.
John Farrell has a little tougher decision with Peavy. The Red Sox have the series lead, but you have to think they want to do everything possible to avoid a return engagement against David Price. But if they go all-out and burn through their bullpen, they may leave themselves vulnerable in Game 5.
For predictions, I'd go with the A's and Red Sox.
And I have absolutely no idea who the heroes will be.
Which is, of course, why we watch.