SweetSpot: Kirk Gibson

So last night, the Brewers and Diamondbacks played a fun game, a mini-potboiler that would make John le Carré pleased if he were a baseball fan.

Brewers starter Kyle Lohse hit two batters, including Arizona shortstop Chris Owings in the back of the neck in the sixth inning. You can see from Lohse's reaction that it was clearly unintentional, just a pitch that got away.

Of course, Kirk Gibson's Diamondbacks had to push back. This is what Gibson and GM-in-firing Kevin Towers have stressed to their team. Remember the Yasiel Puig nonsense last year when the D-backs threw at his head? And remember Towers' comments last October when he said, talking about the Diamondbacks need to pitch inside more, "But I think come spring training, it will be duly noted that it's going to be an eye for an eye and we're going to protect one another." Towers would later amend his statement to say he meant, "I'm not saying hit players on purpose. I'm saying if our hitters are being made uncomfortable at the plate, we need to be the same way; we need to make the opposing hitters uncomfortable at the plate and pitch in with purpose and take that inner third away."

OK. So Lohse hit Owings. The next inning, trailing 4-3, the Brewers had runners at second and third with one out, Ryan Braun at the plate. The D-backs have a little history with Braun. The Brewers beat them in the 2011 Division Series -- that was when Braun failed a drug test and Gibson had expressed his disgust with Braun last season. The Diamondbacks, understandably, don't like Braun. Their managers doesn't like him. The message was clear: You can see catcher Miguel Montero ordering the knockdown pitch. Evan Marshall hit Braun on the rear end and got tossed, leaving to a standing ovation from the fans and high-fives in the dugout.

That's gritty baseball. That's eye-for-an-eye baseball. That's the kind of baseball that Gibson and Towers seem to demand. New chief baseball operator Tony La Russa also wasn't known to back down from throwing at opponents.

It's a knotty issue, this whole "You hit our guy, we hit your guy" thing. People in the game like to say to let the players sort it out. Even Braun said, "We know the way the game works. I wasn't surprised I got hit; I was surprised I got hit in that situation and circumstances, with the go-ahead run at second base and the tying run at third base, and they were ahead."

But is it the way game has to work? How far does it go?

The last time we left it up to the players to police the game we ended up with players sticking needles in their butts in bathroom stalls and an entire era of the game stained. Leaving it to the players is fine until somebody gets permanently injured with a retaliatory pitch to the head. (At least Marshall didn't throw his purpose pitch up there.)

Brad Ziegler came on to face Jonathan Lucroy, who slugged a grand slam to center field. That's how retaliate. Beat your opponent.

"I think the at-bat Luc had was probably the best at-bat I've ever seen," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. "After they smoke our guy ... first pitch [Lucroy] sees, he hits a grand slam. There's just no way an at-bat can get bigger than that."

I guess if there's a bottom line here it's this:

Brewers: 43-29
Diamondbacks: 30-44

Pitching inside doesn't appear to be making the Diamondbacks better.

From my Twitter feed on Tuesday:

This is pretty easy to check. Thanks to Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index, we can search for most career Wins Above Replacement for players who never played in an All-Star Game. By position, we get:

C -- Rick Dempsey (25.3)
1B -- Earl Torgeson (32.7)
2B -- Mark Ellis (33.3)
3B -- Eric Chavez (37.1)
SS -- John Valentin (32.5)
OF -- Tim Salmon (40.5)
OF -- Kirk Gibson (38.3)
OF -- Garry Maddox (36.6)
UT -- Tony Phillips (50.8)

Also in the top 10: Ken McMullen (34.1), Dwayne Murphy (33.2) and Richie Hebner (32.9).

Phillips tops the list with 50.8 career WAR, higher than many Hall of Famers. He was an underrated player who played all over, mostly at second base and the outfield, but he was a shortstop early in his career and started 336 games at third base. During his peak from 1990 to 1997 he averaged .277/.396/.409 and 104 runs per season, more or less playing as a regular for the Tigers, Angels and White Sox while moving around the field. I suspect his utility status hurt him at All-Star time, plus a lot of his value came from drawing walks more than hitting for a high average (he hit .300 once) or for power (hit more than 20 home runs just once).

Gibson told MLB.com in 2011 that he was twice invited as a reserve to the All-Star Game, in 1985 and 1988 (the year he won the NL MVP Award), but turned down the selections. Ellis, Maddox and Murphy were defense-first players, although I was surprised Maddox never made it considering he played for a lot of good Phillies teams. In 1976, he was hitting .321 with five home runs and 40 RBIs at the All-Star break and he'd finish fifth in the MVP vote that year. The National League All-Star outfielders were Greg Luzinski, George Foster and Dave Kingman (starters), plus Bake McBride (.345-3-18 at the break, but St. Louis' only rep), Cesar Cedeno (.297-14-48), Ken Griffey Sr. (.340-4-50) and Al Oliver (.360-12-49 and Pittsburgh's only rep). Pretty tough group to crack.

Salmon's best season came in 1995 when he hit .330 with 34 home runs and 105 RBIs, worth 6.6 WAR (fifth among AL position players that year). The American League All-Star outfielders were Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton and Kirby Puckett (starters), plus Ken Griffey Jr. (injured), Jim Edmonds, Manny Ramirez and Paul O'Neill. Another tough group and Salmon hit .364 in the second half.

You can have a lot of fun doing this. Chavez's best years came from 2000 to 2005 when he averaged .278-30-98 and 4.7 WAR. AL All-Star third basemen those years were Travis Fryman, Troy Glaus, Cal Ripken and Tony Batista (2000); Ripken and Glaus (2001); Shea Hillenbrand, Robin Ventura and Batista (2002); Glaus and Hank Blalock (2003); Alex Rodriguez and Blalock (2004); Rodriguez, Melvin Mora and Hillenbrand (2005). Yes, Shea Hillenbrand started an All-Star Game.

For the pitchers, the top five in career WAR since 1933 to never make an All-Star team:

Tom Candiotti (42.5)
Danny Darwin (40.5)
Charlie Leibrandt (34.4)
Fritz Ostermueller (34.4)
John Tudor (34.3)

The active leader is A.J. Burnett at 27.2.

Tudor didn't make it in 1985, the year he went 21-8 with a 1.93 ERA. He was 10-7 with a 2.27 ERA at the break before going 11-1, 1.59 in the second half (he threw 10 shutouts that year). Not as many pitchers were selected back then so it was more difficult to make it. There were nine NL pitchers and the weakest starter on the staff was the one who actually started, LaMarr Hoyt, who was 12-4 with a 2.93 ERA.

Most career saves to never make an All-Star team? Gene Garber, with 218. Kevin Gregg, with 177, is third on that list and is the active leader.

One more list. Here's the most single-season WAR for players who didn't make the All-Star team that year:

1. John Valentin, 1995: 8.3
2. Josh Donaldson, 2013: 8.0
3. Bernard Gilkey, 1996: 8.0
4. Nick Markakis, 2008: 7.4
5. Brett Gardner, 2010: 7.3
6. Randy Velarde, 1999: 7.0
7. Bill North, 1973: 7.0
8. Andrelton Simmons, 2013: 6.9
9. Dwayne Murphy, 1980: 6.9
10. Chris Hoiles, 1993: 6.8
11. Eddie Lake, 1945: 6.8
12. Solly Hemus, 1952: 6.7
13. Franklin Gutierrez, 2009: 6.6
14. Tim Salmon, 1995: 6.6
15. Rick Wilkins, 1993: 6.6

Valentin actually led AL position players in WAR in 1995, hitting .298/.399/.533 with 27 home runs and 102 RBIs while playing solid defense at shortstop. He finished ninth in the MVP voting (his teammate Mo Vaughn won). The AL All-Star shortstops were Ripken and Gary DiSarcina of the Angels.

For pitchers, the top five (or seven, with ties):

1. Bill Hands, 1969: 8.4
2. John Tudor, 1985: 8.1
3. Mike Caldwell, 1978: 8.1
4. Jim Abbott, 1991: 7.6
5. Mark Eichhorn, 1986: 7.4 (as a reliever!)
6. John Denny, 1983: 7.4
7. Dave Roberts, 1971: 7.4

Hands went 20-14 with a 2.49 ERA for the Cubs, pitching 300 innings. Don't blame him for the Cubs' fade that year: He had 2.27 ERA in August and 2.27 in September.

SweetSpot TV: Rapid fire!

April, 14, 2014

We're back with the always popular rapid fire edition of SweetSpot TV, where Eric and myself take a quick trip through the majors. Today's topics include the Brewers, Freddie Freeman, the A's one-two punch, Dee Gordon and Billy Hamilton, the first manager to be fired, Red Sox injuries and Jose Abreu.

The greatest home run of all time

October, 15, 2013
Today's the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's dramatic home run in Game 1 of the 1988 World Series, one of the most famous home runs in baseball history. Arash Markazi has an excellent oral history of the events leading up to Gibson's pinch-hit theatrics that gave the Dodgers a 5-4 victory and spurred them to a five-game upset of the A's.

I've always thought Bill Mazeroski's home run was the greatest in baseball history -- after all, it remains the only walk-off home run to win Game 7 of the World Series. How can you get bigger than that?

Then I heard Rany Jazayerli and Joe Sheehan talking postseason walk-offs on their latest podcast and Rany made an interesting point: There have been 46 walk-off home runs in postseason history but only three came when trailing: Gibson, Joe Carter's home run to win the 1993 World Series and Lenny Dykstrak's home run for the Mets in Game 3 of the 1986 NLCS.

But Gibson's home run has another added layer over those two: His came with two outs, Carter and Dykstra hit theirs with one out. So Gibson's homer is the only two-out, come-from-behind walk-off home run in postseason history. (Bobby Thomson's home run for the Giants in 1951 was hit in a regular-season tiebreaker and also came with one out.)

So, I think that ratchets up Gibson's home run a couple spots on my list. But does a Game 1 home run trump Game 7? What do you think? Or are you still partial to Thomson or Carter?

I think I might be inclined to put Gibson No. 1, factoring in the score, the outs, his injury and the pitcher (Dennis Eckersley). My new top five:

1. Gibson
2. Mazeroski
3. Carter
4. Thomson
5. Kirby Puckett/Carlton Fisk/David Ortiz/Chris Chambliss/Ozzie Smith/David Freese

By the way, the only players with two postseason walk-off home runs are Ortiz and Bernie Williams.


Tuesday's Arizona Diamondbacks-Los Angeles Dodgers game was anything but calm, however, with benches emptying, coaches fighting, punches thrown and multiple suspensions in order. It was an ugly brawl, the kind we used to routinely see in the 1980s and '90s, not the meet-and-greet, exchange-phone-numbers stuff we usually see now.

We had Dodgers coach Mark McGwire locked up with Diamondbacks coach Matt Williams. We had Yasiel Puig throwing punches and Dodgers reliever Ronald Belisario doing the honorary Darryl Strawberry bats*** crazy impression. D-backs coach Turner Ward got tossed into the ropes.

After everything had calmed down and the great Vin Scully was running down the ejections, he said Arizona manager Kirk Gibson was ejected for "hollering a lot of chicken stuff." The man is a poet.

Once again, Zack Greinke was in the middle of all this, but it's Arizona pitcher Ian Kennedy who delivered the bush-league moment of the game, throwing a pitch that seemed directed right at Greinke's head. Kennedy should face a harsh suspension; a short one that pushes his next start back a day or two won't be enough. Give him 15 days and make him miss two starts. It's one thing to throw at a guy; it's another to throw at somebody's head, especially when retribution had already been made.

It all began with a scary moment, Kennedy delivering an up-and-in, 0-2 fastball in the sixth inning that glanced off Puig's nose. He was down for a few minutes as he got checked out by the medical staff, but stayed in the game. Kennedy's reaction clearly showed he wasn't trying to hit Puig, but the chain of events had kicked in.

[+] EnlargeZack Greinke
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesIan Kennedy's first pitch to Zack Greinke in the seventh inning was a dangerous one.
The next inning, Greinke delivered a fastball to the back of Miguel Montero, Arizona's cleanup hitter. Your cleanup hitter for our cleanup hitter. Have to protect our new franchise player. At least Greinke's pitch was done in honorable baseball tradition, thrown where Montero couldn't get hurt. The benches and bullpens cleared and there was some finger-pointing and yelling, but things quieted down.

Until Greinke came to bat in the bottom of the seventh. Kennedy, even though the game was tied 2-2, decided it was more important to throw at somebody's head than to try to win the game, highlighting the absurdity of the whole retribution concept. But sometimes emotions get the better of us and next thing you know, Don Mattingly was fighting Alan Trammell, Belisario was looking to take on the entire Diamondbacks roster, Clayton Kershaw scared the crap out of Dodgers fans by getting in the middle of the scrum, and Puig needed multiple players to restrain him from going after Gibson. Belisario and Puig will likely face suspensions for their roles in the fight.

(As an aside; Mattingly, McGwire, Gibson, Trammell, Williams, Don Baylor ... this had to be greatest list of coaches and managers ever involved in a brawl.)

Meanwhile, we had a baseball game to complete and after Arizona scored in the top of the eighth, the Dodgers plated three in the bottom of the eighth -- catcher Tim Federowicz delivering the bases-clearing double, to be forever remembered as the hero of the 2013 Brawl Game. New closer Kenley Jansen then pitched 1-2-3 ninth to finish off the 5-3 victory.

Whew. Is that all? Huge win for the Dodgers, who had lost five in a row to Arizona. Loved the passion and intensity from Mattingly and McGwire, and my take is that Kennedy and the D-backs were in the wrong here, so I can understand their anger. It certainly is going to make the rest of the Diamondbacks-Dodgers games very interesting.

One hopes cooler heads will prevail Wednesday. As Scully signed off after the final out, "In a sense, I am personally relieved the game is over."
First base: Double trouble for D-backs. Justin Upton sat out Tuesday's game against the Pirates due to the thumb injury he suffered April 8. Manager Kirk Gibson said his star right fielder -- batting .212 without an RBI -- saw a hand specialist and would likely undergo an MRI. "The thumb's been bothering him," Gibson told the Arizona Republic. "He's pushed hard through it. We've taken a day to re-evaluate what's going on with his thumb." To make matters worse for Arizona, Chris Young crashed into the wall in left-center making a leaping grab and left the game with a shoulder bruise. He too will undergo an MRI. The D-backs received a lot of criticism for signing Jason Kubel in the offseason, but this is where having four outfielders is an asset, not a problem. If Young can't go, Gerardo Parra can handle center.

Second base: Gold Glovers struggling on defense. Two-time Gold Glove winner Troy Tulowitzki committed just six errors last season but he made his sixth already in 2012, letting an easy double-play go through his legs, an error that led to two unearned runs and nearly cost Jamie Moyer his "oldest pitcher to win a game" achievement. Meanwhile, two-time Gold Glover Evan Longoria booted two grounders and made a throwing error for a three-error night in Tampa's 7-3 loss to the Blue Jays (three of Jeff Niemann's five runs were unearned). While Longoria just had one of those nights, Tulo's situation appears more serious, a possible "fielding slump" that is worth keeping an eye on.

Third base: No A's for Angels. Mike Scioscia removed Dan Haren after just 85 pitches, with the Angels leading 2-1 with two runners on and two out in the seventh. Lefty Daric Barton was up for the A's so Scioscia brought in Scott Downs, who did retire Barton to escape the jam. Even though Downs' is the team's best setup guy -- a guy who has proven he can retire right-handed hitters as well as lefties -- Scioscia took him out after four pitches and brought in Kevin Jepsen, a guy considerably lower in the bullen pecking order. Two walks and two hits later it was 3-2 Oakland, and then Yoenis Cespedes made it 5-2 with a two-run single off David Carpenter. Why Jepsen? Or why remove Haren so soon if your bullpen has been taxed in recent days? LaTroy Hawkins had thrown 31 pitches on Monday so was probably unavailable. Downs had thrown 14 pitches, hardly reason to limit him to four pitches. Jason Isringhausen had thrown 21 pitches on Sunday -- but Carpenter had thrown 37. The obvious question: Why not use closer Jordan Walden ... you know, for more than three batters. He's thrown two innings all season -- one inning in a 7-1 win and one inning in a 7-3 loss. In other words, he hasn't thrown a meaningful inning all season. In the last week, the Angels' bullpen has lost two leads in the eighth inning and one in the seventh. But whatever you do, SAVE YOUR CLOSER FOR THE NINTH INNING.

Home plate: Tweet of the day.

Rockies pitcher tweeting members of the Los Angeles Clippers after Jamie Moyer's win:

Robin Ventura and the trial by fire

March, 4, 2012
Robin VenturaAP Photo/Jae C. HongThe team GM Kenny Williams, left, hired Robin Ventura to manage certainly has its share of holes.

Robin Ventura succeeds Ozzie Guillen as manager of the White Sox, having never managed (or coached) at any level in pro ball. Just what has he gotten himself into?

Distinguished Playing Career

Although he will be hard-pressed to make as vivid an impression as his predecessor, Ventura should be able to command the respect of his players on the basis of his own career as a player. Though he isn’t a Hall of Famer, he has certainly had a career worthy of a Cooperstown exhibit. He was a three-time All-American at Oklahoma State University, where he set the NCAA consecutive game hitting streak record of 58 (he still holds the Division I mark). He was a first-round draft pick (10th overall) of the Chicago White Sox in 1988 and made his big-league debut a year later, after only 129 games in the minors.

While never a top-10 player, with few "black ink" stats on the back of his baseball cards, his career was notable for its consistency. Though he only surpassed 100 RBIs and 30 homers twice in his 16-year career, he was a six-time Gold Glover at third, and from 1991-2003 he compiled a 117 OPS+, with no season lower than 97. Whatever foot speed he had in his youth was erased in a horrific fractured/dislocated ankle injury suffered during a spring training game in 1997. He had compiled a line of .276/.367/.442 prior to 1997, but only .256/.357/.446 from 1997 onward.

Ventura had a knack for making history with the bases loaded. On September 4, 1995, he became only the eighth player to hit two grand slams in the same game. On May 20, 1999, he became the first and only player to hit a grand slam in both games of a doubleheader. During Game Five of the 1999 National League Championship Series, he hit a walkoff slam, which turned into a "Grand Slam Single" when his trip around the bases was interrupted by a celebrating teammate who hoisted Ventura up, preventing him from touching home plate. Another memorable moment came in a game against the Rangers in 1993, when he decided he didn’t like getting hit by Nolan Ryan, and charged the mound, only to be "noogied to death" by the 46-year-old Texan.

Track record of neophyte managers

Of those who will be pacing a dugout in 2012, at least seven went into their first big-league stewardship like Ventura is now, a babe in the managerial woods. But unlike Ventura, they all had prior coaching experience. Let’s examine how those seven did in their first two seasons:

  • Dusty Baker (1993 Giants): Baker inherited a team that won 72 games in 1992. Thanks in large part to the addition of free agent Barry Bonds (who compiled a 1.136 OPS), San Francisco improved to a 103-59 record in 1993, with Baker winning NL Manager of the Year. The '94 squad slumped to a 55-60 mark in the strike-curtailed season.
  • Bob Melvin (2003 Mariners): The 2002 squad went 93-69, only good enough for third place in the highly competitive American League West and six games out of the wild card. Melvin guided the M’s to the exact same record in his first year. This time they nabbed second place in the West, but still missed the wild card by two games. Melvin’s second year saw the Mariners fall from seventh to last in the AL in runs scored, and the team went 63-99. Melvin was fired after the season.
  • Ozzie Guillen (2004 White Sox): After the Sox went 86-76 in 2003, Guillen took over in 2004 and led the team to an 83-79 finish. His second season was when the magic happened: An AL-best 99-63 record and a 11-1 postseason record culminating in the franchise’s first title since 1917.
  • Joe Girardi (2006 Marlins): The 2005 Florida squad went 83-79, and Girardi somehow guided the team with the lowest payroll in the majors in '06 to a very respectable 78-84 record. He was rewarded with the NL Manager-of-the-Year award, but not before getting fired by the Marlins due to some clashes with ownership.
  • Bud Black (2007 Padres): Black’s fortunes were similar to Melvin’s -- he barely changed the team’s record in his first year (going from 88-74 to 89-74, with that 163rd game being a loss in the wild card tiebreaker), then saw the team totally collapse in his second season (63-99).
  • Kirk Gibson (2010 Diamondbacks): The D-backs had suffered through a 70-92 campaign in 2009, and were on the same path in the middle of 2010 at 31-48 when Gibson took over. He guided them to a slightly better 34-49 finish, then surprised most pundits with an NL West Division title in 2011, going 94-68 and earning the league’s Manager-of-the-Year award.
  • John Farrell (2011 Blue Jays): After the Jays finished in fourth place in the AL East 2010 despite an 85-77 record, manager Cito Gaston retired, and Farrell was surprisingly given the reins. The Jays meandered to an 81-81 ledger in 2011, never more than four games over or five games under .500 at any point.
  • Don Mattingly (2011 Dodgers): Donnie Baseball took over for a retiring Joe Torre, who had gone 80-82 in 2010. Despite all the off-field distractions, and very little offense outside of Matt Kemp, Mattingly was able to guide the Dodgers to an 82-79 record in 2011.

Two of the most recent examples of managers being hired despite no prior managing or coaching experience have turned out poorly:

  • Buck Martinez (2001 Blue Jays): The 2000 season saw the Jim Fregosi-led Jays go 83-79. Martinez, who spent most of his post-playing career in the broadcast booth, led the ’01 squad to a similar 80-82 record; after getting off to a 20-33 start in 2002, Martinez was fired.
  • A.J. Hinch (2009 Diamondbacks): The 2008 Diamondbacks went a disappointing 82-80, and when they started out 12-17 in '09, Hinch was given the job, at the tender age of 34. He led the team to a 58-75 finish to that season, and was 31-48 in the 2010 campaign when he was replaced by ... Kirk Gibson.

As you can see, most times there is little change in year one, but major upheaval (both good and bad) in year two.

The team he will manage

Since their splendid 99-63 regular season run to the 2005 World Series title, the record of the ChiSox has been neither wretched nor exemplary. With the exception of 2007 (a 72-win campaign), they’ve won between 79 and 90 games each year. They’ve compiled a .511 winning percentage and just one playoff appearance. They rank 13th in W-L percentage during that time.

[+] EnlargeJohn Danks
Jennifer Stewart/US PresswireHow John Danks, right, performs as No. 1 starter and whether Gordon Beckham can get his OPS back on track are key questions awaiting Ventura.
But last year’s club showed some glaring weaknesses. On offense, the 2011 squad had only two regulars compile an OPS greater than .728 (the league OPS was .730) or over a 100 OPS+. There were 22 players with more than 400 plate appearances and a sub-.660 OPS during 2011, and the Sox had five of them. The team finished no higher than seventh in the AL in any offensive category. It were also the third-oldest offense in the league. On defense, committing the second-fewest errors in the AL couldn’t mask the lack of range afield, as White Sox' Defensive Efficiency ranked third from bottom. If you reached first base against the Sox, you ran, as they threw out a league-low 22 percent of stolen-base attempts. The pitching helped keep some of the pressure off of the defense, as their 7.5 K/9 and 2.78 K/BB led the AL. But they still ended up with a league-average 4.10 ERA.

In 2012, the club will face some major hurdles if it wishes to improve on last season's performance or even just to keep pace with it. The starting rotation must replacing staff ace/workhorse Mark Buehrle’s 200-plus innings. Buehrle’s 2,425 frames since 2001 are 60 more than anyone else. John Danks, who pitched better than his 4.33 ERA might suggest, assumes the No. 1 starter position, with 22-year-old Chris Sale stepping into the rotation. Philip Humber pitched more than 21 2/3 innings in the majors for the first time in 2011, by 141 innings; his BABIP was a low .276, and something may have to give in 2012. In the bullpen, Matt Thornton has been the ChiSox primary set-up man for six years, and had a shot to close last year but lost it; with the departure of Sergio Santos via trade, can the 35-year-old Thornton step up, despite a sharp drop in his K/9 rate last year (12.0 to 9.5)?

On offense, there is a growing concern over second baseman Gordon Beckham. The former first-round draft pick has seen his OPS slide from .807 to .695 to .633, though his defense has improved at second base. Third baseman Brent Morel may not be the answer at the hot corner, as his profile (a .250 doubles hitter with few walks and below-average range) is lacking for the position. Catcher A.J. Pierzynski is 35 and closing in on 1,500 games behind the plate. His 120 games at catcher last year were his lowest since 2004, and he threw out only 20 percent of runners attempting to steal, below his career mark of 24 percent. There have been only 30 player-seasons in the past 50 years where a 35-or-older catcher has managed at least a .728 OPS (as Pierzynski did last year).

Then we come to the two biggest enigmas, Adam Dunn and Alex Rios. Everyone is well aware of Dunn’s legendary collapse in 2011, including his .064 batting average versus lefties. With three years and $44 million to go, can new hitting coach Jeff Manto get "The Big Donkey" standing upright again? Also, while Rios will never truly be worth the $21 million he is drawing each year through 2014, the Sox hope for something closer to the .284/.334/.457 line of 2010, rather than the .227/.265/.328 slash of 2011. They’re moving him to left field this season, where he has played one game his entire career.

Will Ventura exceed expectations?

So, Robin Ventura will certainly have his hands full (and tied) with a team that is, at best, in transition and, at worst, about to fall off a cliff. If he can move the White Sox in the right direction, it will be yet another extraordinary performance, as impressive as any of his grand slams. Given his history as a player, and the opportunity to establish a new atmosphere in the clubhouse, I think there is at least a chance he can pull it off.

Diane Firstman blogs about baseball at Value Over Replacement Grit, a SweetSpot network affiliate, and you can follow her on Twitter at @dianagram

Maddon, Gibson worthy selections

November, 16, 2011
Kirk Gibson & Joe MaddonUS PresswireKirk Gibson, right, and Joe Maddon won Manager of the Year awards Wednesday.
It’s now official: This year’s BBWAA Managers of the Year are Joe Maddon of the Tampa Bay Rays from the American League and Kirk Gibson of the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League. The victories for both men have been expected for months, providing only slightly more drama than yesterday’s anointing of Justin Verlander as the AL’s Cy Young winner.

Gibson won the NL honor by drawing 28 of the 32 first-place votes. The others went to the Brewers' Ron Roenicke (3) and the Cardinals' Tony La Russa (1). Maddon's victory was equally decisive, as he was given 26 of 28 first-place votes by AL electors, with Jim Leyland of the Tigers and Ron Washington of the Rangers getting one apiece.

In both cases, the two men managed surprise playoff teams, because on Opening Day neither Arizona nor Tampa Bay was expected to be playing into October. The D-backs were widely expected to finish in last place in the NL West after winning just 65 games in 2010, while the Rays’ offseason defections via free agency and departures through various deals generated the expectation that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with powerhouse Yankees and Red Sox.

If you’re of a sabermetric bent, a particularly interesting distinction between the two managers is that, if you look at how much teams overperform or underperform and want to ascribe some portion of that to their managers, Gibson should very much be your guy. Using Bill James' observation that you can take the Pythagorean theorem and plug in a team's runs scored and allowed to project a winning percentage, you’ll find every team's expected winning percentage and record here.

By finishing five games better than expected, the D-backs were among the league’s best in doing the most with the least, in a manner of speaking; Baseball-Reference.com has them tied with three other teams for the best over-performance of their expected record, winding up six games better than expected. Get really involved, as Clay Davenport invariably is with third-order winning percentage (adjusting for strength of schedule and projected runs scored and allowed), and the D-backs were almost 12 games better than you’d have expected -- the difference between winning their division and losing it.

And the Rays? They’re nowhere close to the top, because they played almost exactly as well as you’d have expected them to, breaking even via B-Ref, finishing a game worse than expected via Davenport’s work or ESPN’s published findings.

All of which is a great way of saying that sometimes the data captures something important about managers, and sometimes it doesn’t. Maddon’s Rays won as a matter of a fulfillment of design and planning. The reasons are as multifaceted as the organization’s genius: Its clever cross-positional platoons to exploit the flexibility of Ben Zobrist; a bullpen that reflected the combined benefits of scouting and analysis to succeed with Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz and Joel Peralta; the thrift in conjuring up a first-base solution like Casey Kotchman; and the benefits of a farm system ready to crank out Desmond Jennings, AL Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Alex Cobb and more. Maddon is no push-button skipper, but he’s an aggressive tactician -- especially with the bunt and hit-and-run -- and an adaptive organizer, and a perfect fit for a franchise reliably ready to pounce whenever the Yankees or Red Sox miss a beat. His victory reflects the merit of being the right guy in the right place for the right reasons, and delivering the right stuff.

In contrast, a number of things broke Gibson’s way, but part of that involved risks that were taken and rewarded. In making my own vote as a member for Gibson (with Roenicke second, and the Phillies’ Charlie Manuel third), I wound up favoring the Snakes’ skipper because of what he had and what he did with it.

In the lineup, Gibson had already committed himself to Gerardo Parra as his left fielder back in 2010, something not every manager would do with a power position. His faith proved justified. Not every manager would have been comfortable handing the third-base job to a minor league veteran like Ryan Roberts. Many would have stuck with the collection of veterans the D-backs started out with at first base, but Gibson presided over giving Paul Goldschmidt full faith in the heat of a stretch run. He handled a young rotation in a tough park effectively, breaking in rookie Josh Collmenter. Time and again, Gibson’s Diamondbacks would dump “safe,” ineffective, well-known choices, and time and again, they were rewarded by a faith in relative unknowns.

As a tactician, Gibson was aggressive with his baserunners (leading the league in calling for double-steal attempts), while simultaneously conservative with position-player bunting, the hit-and-run and the intentional walk. He took care of his young charges in the rotation, never taxing anyone with a 120-pitch start. As spreads of tactical and operational preferences go, this was one that statheads can warm up to, and the voters did, as well.

Finally, as a brief postscript, my choice for Roenicke as the second-place finisher was fairly straightforward, going back to my evaluation of him in August. If anything, who I would tab third -- with ballots due at the end of the regular season -- wound up being the choice I hemmed and hawed over longest. In the end, I recognized Manuel for his job for once again steering an excellent team through a series of potentially crippling injuries.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
Quick, who won last year's Manager of the Year awards?

Exactly. Not the most interesting of the postseason awards. But here's a quick preview of the award that usually goes to the manager whose team surprised the most.

American League

Joe Maddon, Rays: The odds-on favorite to win his second award, following Tampa Bay's miracle playoff run in September. Positives: Kept team positive after 0-6 start, Evan Longoria's April injury and Manny Ramirez's drug test/retirement; overcame two shortstops who hit under .200; mixed and matched guys like Ben Zobrist, Matt Joyce and Sean Rodriguez for maximum producitivity; rebuilt bullpen thrived; sent up Dan Johnson to pinch-hit in the ninth inning of game No. 162. Negatives: Was that a mullet?

Ron Washington, Rangers: Remember, postseason performance doesn't come into play. Positives: Moved Alexi Ogando to the rotation; got a big year out of Michael Young by moving him around the DH role and the infield; let Mike Napoli eventually take over as the regular catcher. Negatives: Remember, postseason performance doesn't come into play.

Jim Leyland, Tigers: A two-time winner with the Pirates and once with the Tigers, Leyland could be the first manager to win the award four times (the award began in 1983). Positives: Gave the ball to Justin Verlander and stayed out of the way. Negatives: Poor lineup construction.

Manny Acta, Indians: The Indians ended up at 80-82, but it was a positive season as they remained in the playoff race much of the season. Positives: Hung in there despite injuries to Grady Sizemore and Shin-Soo Choo; worked in young players like Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall; adeptly handled no-name bullpen to a nice season. Negatives: Couldn't straighten out Fausto Carmona; stuck with Orlando Cabrera way too long in No. 2 hole.

SweetSpot network voting
Joe Maddon: 114 points (21 first-place votes)
Jim Leyland: 32 points
Ron Washington: 28 points (1)
Manny Acta: 20 points (1)
Joe Girardi: 20 points (1)
Terry Francona: 1 point
Mike Scioscia: 1 point

My ballot
1. Joe Maddon
2. Manny Acta
3. Ron Washington

National League

Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks: Arizona improved from 65 to 94 wins, making Gibson the front-runner. Positives: Made regulars out of Ryan Roberts and Gerardo Parra; installed a new energy and attitude into the team; got nice work out of rookie starter Josh Collmenter; dramatically improved the bullpen from a year ago; constantly forced to change lineup. Negatives: Let's not talk about that Division Series.

Ron Roenicke, Brewers: In his first season, the Brewers set a club record with 96 wins (one more than 1982's Harvey's Wallbangers). Positives: Inspired move to eventually hit Corey Hart leadoff; got good results from mercurial center fielder Nyjer Morgan; once Zack Greinke returned, had top four guys who didn't miss a start all season; didn't overreact because team didn't have a good lefty in the pen. Negatives: Stuck with Casey McGehee too long; stuck with Craig Counsell as utility guy.

Tony La Russa, Cardinals: The future Hall of Famer went out in style, although the award is voted on before the postseason. Positives: Overcame season-long injury to Adam Wainwright, plus DL stints from Albert Pujols, David Freese and Matt Holliday; coaxed good work out of bullpen after closer Ryan Franklin self-destructed in April; went with Jason Motte as closer down the stretch; believed in Jon Jay's ability to play center, allowed trade of Colby Rasmus. Negatives: Inability to enunciate during calls to the bullpen.

SweetSpot network voting
Kirk Gibson: 99 points (16 first-place votes)
Ron Roenicke: 51 points (3)
Tony La Russa: 49 points (5)
Charlie Manuel: 8 points
Don Mattingly: 4 points
Clint Hurdle: 4 points
Fredi Gonzalez: 1 point

My ballot
1. Kirk Gibson
2. Tony La Russa
3. Ron Roenicke
Win Probability Added is a statistic that doesn't necessarily tell us who had the greatest game, but tells us who had the most timely game. It uses historical play-by-play data to determine the value of each play based on the score, inning and situation, and calculates how the odds of winning or losing the game changed based on that play. So a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth is worth more than a home run in a 10-2 blowout.

[+] EnlargeDavid Freese
Jeff Curry/US PresswireSt. Louis' David Freese is greeted by teammates after his walk-off home run in the 11th inning of Game 6.
Well ... David Freese had the single highest WPA in World Series history in Game 6. But to tell you what kind of game it was, teammate Lance Berkman had the third-highest. Here are the top 10, from Baseball-Reference.com:

1. David Freese, Cardinals, Game 6, 2011 (.969 WPA): Two-out, two-run triple in the bottom of the ninth, game-winning home run in the 11th. Not a bad day at the balllpark.

2. Kirk Gibson, Dodgers, Game 1, 1988 (.870): Two outs, bottom of the ninth, down by one, runner on base, Dennis Eckersley throws a backdoor slider ...

3. Lance Berkman, Cardinals, Game 6, 2011 (.832): Because the Cardinals staged two dramatic, two-out comebacks, Berkman's heroics also score high. He had a key walk in the ninth, tied it in the 10th with his two-out single and also hit a two-run homer in the first.

4. Charlie Keller, Yankees, Game 4, 1941 (.826): This is the famous game in which Mickey Owen dropped the third strike, leading to the Yankees scoring four runs in the ninth to win 7-4. Keller hit a two-out, two-run go-ahead double in the ninth, and also had an RBI single in the first during a 4-for-5 game.

5. Cookie Lavagetto, Dodgers, Game 4, 1947 (.822): Lavagetto's pinch-hit two-out, two-run double in the bottom of the ninth broke up Bill Bevens' no-hit bid and gave Brooklyn a 3-2 victory.

6. Stan Hack, Cubs, Game 6, 1945 (.806): The Cubs' leadoff hitter, Hack went 4-for-5 with two walks and three RBIs in a 12-inning 8-7 victory, including the winning double with two outs.

7. Devon White, Blue Jays, Game 4, 1993: Toronto scored six runs in the eighth to win a wild 15-14 game. White's two-out, two-run triple off Mitch Williams knocked in the go-ahead runs. He finished 3-for-5 with a walk, two runs and four RBIs.

8. Ed Sprague, Blue Jays, Game 2, 1992: His two-run pinch-hit home run off Jeff Reardon in the top of the ninth gave Toronto a 5-4 victory.

9. Terry Pendleton, Cardinals, Game 2, 1985: Trailing 2-0 entering the ninth, the Cards scored one run and loaded the bases with two outs against Charlie Leibrandt. Pendleton cleared the bases with a double down the left-field line.

10. Hal Smith, Pirates, Game 7, 1960: Smith's three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth with two outs gave the Pirates a 9-7 lead. The Yankees tied it in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for Bill Mazeroski's game-winner.
Nelson CruzAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillWhere does Nelson Cruz's grand slam in the 11th inning of Monday's ALCS game rank?

There have been 2,208 home runs hit in the history of postseason baseball; 42 of those were walk-off home runs, including Nelson Cruz's grand slam on Monday for the Rangers. Only two players have done it more than once. Not surprisingly, the Yankees have hit the most walk-offs, with 11. Seventeen of the 42 came in the ninth inning, 25 in extra innings. Twenty-three were solo homers. Only three came with the hitter's team trailing. Catchers have hit more -- six -- than any other position. Seven were hit by Hall of Famers. Only three have been served up by Hall of Famers. One unfortunate pitcher surrendered two of them.

Here they are. In some sort of order resembling least memorable to most memorable, or least important to most important, factoring in the situation, series and any other dramatic effects that may have come into play (FYI: Bobby Thomson's Shot Heard 'Round the World was technically a regular-season game, since tiebreaker games are counted as regular-season contests.)

42. Alan Ashby, Astros (1981 NLDS, Game 1, off Dave Stewart)

The Dodgers had hit for Fernando Valenzuela in the top of the inning, so Stewart was pitching. The Astros won Game 2 as well, 1-0 in 11 innings, but the Dodgers won the next three and went on to win the World Series.

41. Rafael Furcal, Braves (2004 NLDS, Game 2, off Dan Miceli)

This one is interesting because it came off Miceli. You'll see his name later on. He's the only pitcher to serve up two walk-off home runs in postseason history.

40. George Vukovich, Phillies (1981 NLDS, Game 4, off Jeff Reardon)

Braves fans nod their heads.

39. Mark Teixeira, Yankees (2009 ALDS, Game 2, off Jose Mijares)

Teixeira's low liner in the 11th won the game, but the big hit was Alex Rodriguez's game-tying two-run shot off Joe Nathan in the ninth.

38. Tony Pena, Indians (1995 ALDS, Game 1, off Zane Smith)

Even Red Sox fans may not remember this one. Rick Aguilera had blown a lead for Boston in the 11th inning when Albert Belle homered to tie. Pena -- in the game after Sandy Alomar had been pinch-run for -- then won it. Pena would hit just one more home run in his big league career.

37. John Lowenstein, Orioles (1979 ALCS, Game 1, off John Montague)

Lowenstein's three-run shot with two outs in the 10th inning gave the Orioles a 6-3 win over the Angels, and came after Al Bumbry had been intentionally walked. What doesn't make sense: Did Jim Fregosi not think Earl Weaver would hit for Mark Belanger, who had hit .167 that season? (Why was Belanger batting second? Good question. He had a career .367 OBP off Nolan Ryan, so that must have been the reason.) What's even more odd is that Montague was the first guy out of the Angels bullpen. He'd spent most of the season with Seattle, came over in late August, and his overall numbers included a 5.51 ERA -- 5.07 in 17.2 innings for California (nine walks and just six strikeouts).

36. Jim Leyritz, Yankees (1995 ALDS, Game 2, off Tim Belcher)

Leyritz is more famous for his home run off Mark Wohlers in the 1996 World Series, but his two-run homer in the rain gave the Yankees a 15-inning win and a 2-0 series lead, as they appeared headed to their first World Series since 1981. This game wasn't that long ago, but almost seems from a different era: Seattle used five pitchers, the Yankees only four; Mariners closer Norm Charlton pitched four innings; Yankees closer John Wetteland pitched 3.1. The winning pitcher? An obscure rookie named Mariano Rivera, who pitched 3.1 scoreless innings in his first postseason game.

[+] EnlargeDetroit's Magglio Ordonez
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesMagglio Ordonez's three-run home run sent the Detroit Tigers to the World Series in 2006.
35. Mark McGwire, A's (1988 World Series, Game 3, off Jay Howell)

Two games after Kirk Gibson's home run, McGwire's game-ender gave A's fan hope. Alas, Tim Belcher won Game 4 and Orel Hershiser won Game 5 and the Bash Brothers had gone down. (The home run was McGwire's sole hit of the Series.)

34. Johnny Bench, Reds (1973 NLCS, Game 1, off Tom Seaver)

Here's a piece of oddball trivia: This is the walk-off home run in postseason history hit by one future Hall of Famer off another future Hall of Famer. The Reds won 2-1, but the Mets upset the Big Red Machine in five games.

33. Manny Ramirez, Red Sox (2007 ALDS, Game 2, off Francisco Rodriguez)

Mike Scioscia began the inning managing to the save, as he let Justin Speier give up a hit before bringing in K-Rod. With two outs, Scioscia intentionally walked David Ortiz. Ramirez clocked a 1-0 pitch deep into the Boston night. "He's one of the greatest closers in the game and I'm one of the best hitters in the game," Ramirez said after the game.

32. Magglio Ordonez, Tigers (2006 ALCS, Game 4, off Huston Street)

The Tigers had already won the first three games against Oakland when Ordonez sent Detroit to its first World Series in 22 years with a two-out, three-run shot.

31. Benny Agbayani, Mets (2000 NLDS, Game 3, off Aaron Fultz)

The Hammerin' Hawaiian! Agbayani was a cult hero for a few seasons at Shea, never more so than when he tagged Fultz in the 13th inning to send the Flushing faithful home happy. (He even wrote a book after that season!) Was Agbayani a classic late '90s/early '00s kind of player or what? Not exactly Willie Mays in the outfield, but he could hammer a mistake pitch. His career died out pretty quickly after this home run, as he played just two more seasons in the majors and eventually went over to Japan for three years.

30. Nelson Cruz, Rangers (2011 ALCS, Game 2, off Ryan Perry)

The first official postseason walk-off grand slam (Robin Ventura hit a ball over the wall to win Game 5 of the 1999 NLCS for the Mets, but was mobbed by his teammates at second base and the hit was officially ruled a single).

29. Bernie Williams, Yankees (1996 ALCS, Game 1, off Randy Myers)

Also known as The Jeffrey Maier Game. (That home run came in the eighth inning.) Williams won it in the 11th and would hit .474 with six RBIs in the series.

28. Bernie Williams, Yankees (1999 ALCS, Game 1, off Rod Beck)

One of two players have two career walk-off home runs in the postseason. Bernie's both came in the first game of the ALCS, both in extra inning, this one in the 10th inning. Williams' career postseason batting line, by the way: .275/.371/.480, 22 home runs and 80 RBIs in 121 games. He never received the accolades like Derek Jeter, but was every bit the clutch playoff performer.

27. David Ortiz, Red Sox (2004 ALDS, Game 3, off Jarrod Washburn)

And here's our second guy with two. This was his first one, which came in the 10th inning and won the series for Boston. His next one is a little higher on the list.

26. Mickey Mantle, Yankees (1964 World Series, Game 3, off Barney Schultz)

Mantle was a wreck by the time the 1964 World Series rolled out, playing on a bad knee and through a bum shoulder that required offseason surgery. His error earlier in the game allowed the Cardinals to score their only run in a 1-1 game. Schultz, a 37-year-old knuckleballer, warmed up and Mantle declared in the dugout, "I'm gonna hit one outta here." Mantle swung at the first pitch and crushed into the upper deck. It was his 16th career World Series home run, breaking Babe Ruth's record. (The Cardinals would win in seven games, however, although Mantle hit two more home runs.)

25. Chad Curtis, Yankees (1999 World Series, Game 3, off Mike Remlinger)

This is how the Yankees won games in those days: It wasn't just Williams and Jeter coming up with the big hits. Curtis had homered in the fifth inning off Tom Glavine and then won the game in the 10th. The Yanks completed the sweep the next day.

24. Todd Pratt, Mets (1999 NLDS, Game 4, off Matt Mantei)

The Mets' backup catcher, Pratt had hit three home runs all season. For a second, it appeared Diamondbacks center fielder Steve Finley had made the catch. But it just cleared the wall and Pratt had sent the Mets to the NLCS.

[+] EnlargeNew York's Mickey Mantle
AP PhotoThird base coach Frank Crosetti congratulates Mickey Mantle after his home run gave the Yankees a win in Game 3 of the 1964 World Series.
23. Trot Nixon, Red Sox (2003 ALDS, Game 3, off Rich Harden)

I'd forgotten this: Nixon was actually pinch-hitting in the 11th inning for Gabe Kapler, who had started because lefty Ted Lilly started for Oakland. The A's had won the first two games, but the Red Sox won the next three, culminating in Derek Lowe's infamous crotch grab directed to the Oakland dugout after striking out Terrence Long with the bases loaded to save a 4-3 lead in Game 5. Good times.

22. Alfonso Soriano, Yankees (2001 ALCS, Game 4, off Kazuhiro Sasaki)

There were only six hits in this game. Bret Boone had homered to give Seattle a 1-0 lead the eighth, but Bernie Williams homered off Arthur Rhodes to tie. And then the Yankees' rookie second baseman delivered the crushing blow, and the 116-win Mariners were behind 3 games to 1.

21. Bert Campaneris, A's (1973 ALCS, Game 3, off Mike Cuellar)

Oakland's leadoff hitter, Campy had hit just four home runs all season, but his 11th-inning home run off Cuellar gave the A's a 2-1 win and ended one of the great pitching duels in postseason play. Ken Holtzman went all 11 innings for the A's, allowing just three hits. Cuellar allowed just four hits while striking out 11.

20. Chris Burke, Astros (2004 NLDS, Game 4, off Joey Devine)

Burke's 17th-inning home run ended the longest postseason game in history and also won the series for the Astros. If you want to rank this higher, I won't fight too much.

19. Jeff Kent, Astros (2004 NLCS, Game 5, off Jason Isringhausen)

Kent and Tommy Henrich are the only players to hit walk-off home runs in a postseason to break a 0-0 tie. This was the game when St. Louis' Woody Williams allowed one hit in seven innings, and Houston's Brandon Backe allowed one hit in eight innings. No small feat considering names like Beltran, Bagwell, Berkman, Walker, Pujols and Rolen were in the lineups. Plus the next guy ...

18. Jim Edmonds, Cardinals (2004 NLCS, Game 6, off Dan Miceli)

A game after Kent's home run, Edmonds slammed a two-run shot off Miceli with one out in the 12th inning to tie the series -- the only time a postseason series has featured walk-off home runs in consecutive games. The Cardinals would win Game 7 as well.

17. Scott Podsednik, White Sox (2005 World Series, Game 2, off Brad Lidge)

You could make a case that this was the least likely home run in World Series history, and certainly the least likely walk-off home run. Podsednik, after all, had batted 568 times all season and hit zero home runs. The Astros had tied the game in the top of the inning on Jose Vizcaino's two-out, two-run single, setting up Podsednik's home run. In his previous appearance, in the NLCS, Lidge had served up a mammoth, game-losing home run to Albert Pujols. He said that home run wasn't on his mind. "Unfortunately, because I happened to give up home runs in back-to-back games, it may look like I was. But the fact is, I threw a fastball to Podsednik that I wanted to throw. He may have hit it out. But that had nothing to do with Albert Pujols." The count was 2-1. He didn't want to fall behind 3-1. Podsednik was sitting on the heater. "I was thinking that he was probably going to challenge me with a fastball," he said. "And I said, 'Hey, let's put a good swing on this fastball.'"

16. Tommy Henrich, Yankees (1949 World Series, Game 1, off Don Newcombe)

Henrich's blast was not only the first walk-off home run in postseason history but remains one of just two that came with the score 0-0 (see Jeff Kent above). Nicknamed "Old Reliable" for his clutch hitting, played alongside Joe DiMaggio and Charlie Keller in one of the greatest outfields ever assembled. The home run also seems to have put a hex over Newcombe, who had taken a four-hit shutout into the ninth: He'd make four more World Series starts in his career and allow 20 runs in 14 innings.

15. Alex Gonzalez, Marlins (2003 World Series, Game 4, off Jeff Weaver)

Weaver had posted an unseemly 5.99 ERA during the season, but Joe Torre brought him in the 11th inning of a tie game. ''I mean, if he's not in the game there, he shouldn't be on our roster,'' Torre said after Gonzalez beat Weaver in the 12th inning to tie the Series. Where was Mariano Rivera, who went unused in the game, you ask? He had thrown 23 pitches in Game 3 (although went unused in the first two games), and perhaps Torre was saving him for the save situation that never came. As for Weaver, it was the last pitch he threw in pinstripes. By the way, the bigger story at the time: Many believed it was the final game of Roger Clemens' career. He even doffed his cap to the Marlins' crowd, tears welling up in his eyes, as he received a standing ovation after coming out of the game. "It was a very touching moment," Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "He's a class act. We're gonna miss guys like him." (I'm thinking that maybe Roger should have retired.)

14. Steve Garvey, Padres (1984 NLCS, Game 4, off Lee Smith)

Before Leon Durham's error, there was Garvey's home run, a two-run blast that gave the Padres a 7-5 win. Based on WPA (win probability added), Garvey's 4-for-5, five-RBI performance that night was the second-best clutch hitting game in postseason history.

13. Eddie Mathews, Braves (1957 World Series, Game 4, off Bob Grim)

One of the forgotten great World Series games, the Yankees led the Series 2 games to 1 when Elston Howard's two-out, three-run homer off Warren Spahn tied the game in the ninth inning. The Yankees added another run in the 10th on Hank Bauer's RBI triple to take a 5-4 lead. Bob Grim, the Yankee closer who had gone 12-8 with a league-leading 19 saves that year, came on. He hit Nippy Jones, hitting for Spahn, to lead off the inning, a play famous for many years as the pitch was originally called a ball and then overturned when Jones showed umpire Augie Donatelli a shoe-polish mark on the ball. After an RBI double, Mathews launched his game-winning home run. The Braves went on to win in seven games.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Ozzie Smith
AP PHOTOOzzie Smith's ninth-inning home run gave the Cardinals a victory and its fans a reason to "Go crazy!"
12. Ozzie Smith, Cardinals (1985 NLCS, Game 5, off Tom Niedenfuer)

Jack Buck: "Smith corks one into right, down the line! It may go ... go crazy, folks! Go crazy! It's a home run! And the Cardinals have won the game, by the score of 3 to 2, on a home run by The Wizard! Go crazy!" Ozzie hit five other home runs in his career batting left-handed.

11. Dusty Rhodes, Giants (1954 World Series, Game 1, off Bob Lemon)

To many, the 1954 Indians seemed unbeatable, winners of 111 games with a rotation that featured Lemon, Early Wynn, Mike Garcia and veteran Bob Feller. In the eighth inning of the opener, Willie Mays made his famous catch to keep the game tied. Lemon was in his 10th inning of work when Leo Durocher sent Rhodes -- who hit .341 in part-time duty that season -- in to hit for Monte Irvin with two runners on and one out. Rhodes didn't hit it far, but the right-field wall at the Polo Grounds was only 258 feet down the line. His home run had just enough distance. Rhodes would later add game-tying pinch-single and home run in Game 2 and a two-run single in Game 3 as the Giants pulled off the sweep. "I couldn't buy a drink in New York after that '54 Series," Rhodes once said.

10. Derek Jeter, Yankees (2001 World Series, Game 4, off Byung-Hyun Kim)

Jeter hit Kim's 61st pitch of the night into the right-field bleachers. You probably won't be surprised to discover this: Since then, 15 relievers have thrown more pitches in a postseason game, but all were long guys who entered before the fifth inning. And, yes, Bob Brenly brought him to pitch the next night.

9. Lenny Dykstra, Mets (1986 NLCS, Game 3, off Dave Smith)

Mark Simon has more on Dykstra's drama here, but needless to say it was huge: It remains one of just three walk-off home run that came with the hitter's team trailing, and in the Mets' case, they were in danger of going down 2-1 to the Astros with Mike Scott going in Game 4.

8. David Ortiz, Red Sox (2004 ALCS, Game 4, off Paul Quantrill)

And the comeback begins ...

7. Chris Chambliss,Yankees (1976 ALCS, Game 5, off Mark Littell)

In the first of three consecutive series between the Yankees and Royals that featured more plot twists than a daytime soap opera, the Royals had dramatically tied the game with three runs in the eighth inning. As Chambliss stepped in to face the rookie Kansas City fireballer, the PA announcer intoned the crowd to stop throwing toilet paper and garbage on the field. And this happened. It's worth watching, if only for the Howard Cosell appearance. Not to mention Chambliss trying to round the bases as fans stormed the field.

6. Aaron Boone, Yankees, 2003 ALCS, Game 7, off Tim Wakefield)

You could rate Chambliss' homer higher. Both teams went on to lose the World Series, but I give Boone's the slight edge since it came against the rival Red Sox and completed Boston's painful and dramatic late-game collapse. But Boone didn't have to shove his way through hundreds of drunken New Yorkers on his home-run trot.

5. Carlton Fisk, Red Sox (1975 World Series, Game 6, off Pat Darcy)

A little overrated -- the Red Sox did lose Game 7, after all -- but Fisk's 12th-inning home run came in the midst of a brilliant game and hard-fought, exciting World Series with a lot on the line. Everybody knows about Boston's curse at the time, but Reds were also trying to win for the first time since 1940 after their superstar-laden lineup had failed to win in 1970, 1972 and 1973. Add it up, throwing in the iconic image of Fisk willing the ball fair it crossed over the Green Monster, and you have a home run that will be remembered for a long time.

4. Kirby Puckett, Twins (1991 World Series, Game 6, off Charlie Leibrandt)

The Twins trailed the Braves, 3 games to 2. Puckett told the story years later to Tim Kurkjian: "I went to the clubhouse, and I gathered [everyone] up. I said, 'Everybody together, we're going to have a short meeting.' Everybody comes in, and I said, 'Guys, I just have one announcement to make: You guys should jump on my back tonight. I'm going to carry us.'" He did.

3. Kirk Gibson, Dodgers (1988 World Series, Game 1, off Dennis Eckersley)

Gibson's home run is so legendary, so awesome, that it almost makes us forget how Orel Hershiser carried that Dodgers that postseason: 3-0, one save, 1.05 ERA in 42.2 innings, .171 average allowed.

2. Joe Carter, Blue Jays (1993 World Series, Game 6, off Mitch Williams)

Williams had already blown three saves that postseason when Jim Fregosi called upon him to protect a 6-5 lead. He walked Rickey Henderson on four pitches. Devon White flew out after a tough nine-pitch at-bat. Paul Molitor singled to center. And then Carter hooked the ball to left field and touched 'em all. Blue Jays 8, Phillies 6.

1. Bill Mazeroski, Pirates (1960 World Series, Game 7, off Ralph Terry)

The granddaddy of them all. His home run off the ivy-draped wall at Forbes Field not only won the World Series but capped off maybe the greatest baseball game ever played.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

Bill MazeroskiIcon SMIBill Mazeroski remains the only player to win Game 7 of the World Series with a walk-off home run.
The National League elimination games Wednesday went the way of the home teams, giving us much to look forward to on Friday! Keith Law and I discussed these matters and much more on Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast!

1. The Phillies just can’t hit. Credit the Cardinals, but baseball’s best team is in trouble if they keep relying on the three-run home run. In a related note, a squirrel did something interesting Wednesday.

2. Both the Diamondbacks and Brewers can clearly hit at home. Can either hit enough away from home? Kudos to Kirk Gibson, by the way.

3. The Yankees and Tigers play one more game to decide the opponent for Texas, and we tell you which team will have its closer on the mound deciding things.

4. It was a clutch show today, but does that make Klaw and I clutch? We debate this issue for baseball players.

5. Keith shares his thoughts on a Blue Jays prospect and more from the Arizona Fall League.

So download and listen to Thursday’s Baseball Today podcast because otherwise, you won’t know what’s happening in the game or hear Soderberg’s squirrel noises. Yes sir!

Now we know why the Milwaukee Brewers and Arizona Diamondbacks played all-out down the stretch to secure home-field advantage for the first round, which the Brewers finally clinched on the final day of the season. These teams play like the 1927 Yankees at home and the 1962 Mets on the road. The Brewers went 11-4 in their final 15 games to beat out the Diamondbacks for the No. 2 seed, which means they get to head back to the loud but comfy confines of Miller Park for Game 5, and that could be the difference in this series.

They’ll certainly be glad to leave Arizona after getting hammered by the Diamondbacks 10-6 on Wednesday in a game that featured more plot twists than the final score indicates. A few random notes, thoughts, trivia and other stuff:
  • Ryan Roberts did not miss what looked like a hanging slider from Randy Wolf in the first inning, hooking it into the left-field bullpen for a grand slam. It gave the Diamondbacks a 4-1 lead and made them the first team since the 1977 Dodgers to hit grand slams in consecutive postseason games (Ron Cey and Dusty Baker, in case you're keeping track). Roberts struggled in September, hitting .205 with just two home runs, but he's been seeing the ball well in this series, with two home runs, a double and a .400 average in the first four games.
  • After a much-documented disastrous Game 1 in which he pitched to Prince Fielder with a base open and started Lyle Overbay over Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs manager Kirk Gibson redeemed himself with several gutsy moves in this game. Leading 5-3 in the bottom of the third, he pinch hit for starter Joe Saunders with runners at second and third and two outs. Saunders had not looked good through three innings but still led. In the regular season, Saunders hits. This isn't the regular season. Gibson seized the opportunity to score more runs and looked brilliant when Collin Cowgill bounced a two-run single into left field.
  • After Micah Owings delivered two scorless innings, Gibson's move to bring in Jarrod Parker, the 22-year-old rookie and top prospect who had pitched just one game in the regular season, didn't look smart when Parker allowed an infield hit, a walk and a single to load the bases. Gibson brought in Bryan Shaw, and Corey Hart ripped one into left-center ... it initially sounded (and looked) like it could be a game-tying grand slam, but left fielder Gerardo Parra took a perfect route to the ball and ran it down at the warning, showing why he's likely to win a Glove Glove this season.
  • That's one of the beautiful aspects of October baseball: Collin Cowgill and Gerardo Parra, unsung heroes. By the way, make sure you watch the replay again to see how much ground Parra covered to make that catch. That ball is out of some ballparks. The play of the game and a terrific play.
  • Chris Young helped out as well, with two home runs of his own.
  • The key guy for the Brewers right now has to be Rickie Weeks. Ryan Braun is hitting .467 with a .529 on-base percentage in the series; Fielder is hitting .333 with a .412 OBP. Those guys are living on the bases, but Weeks is hitting .067 after going 0-for-5 on Wednesday and has just one RBI.
  • Brewers fans certainly were upset with Ron Roenicke for not removing Wolf before he allowed his sixth and seventh runs in the third, but I can't fault Roenicke too much -- with the series lead, there was no need to burn through his bullpen, and Wolf was one out from escaping the inning. Cowgill's bouncer just found a hole.
  • Both starters lasted just three innings. Not including that Justin Verlander/CC Sabathia rainout from the other night, the last postseason game in which both starters pitched three or fewer innings was Game 5 of the 2005 American League Division Series, in which the Yankees' Mike Mussina lasted just 2.2 innings and the Angels' Bartolo Colon left after one with injury. (Rookie Ervin Santana came on and pitched into the seventh.) The last game in which both starters got shelled was Game 3 of the 2004 AL Championship Series, in which Bronson Arroyo and Kevin Brown both pitched just two innings in a game the Yankees eventually won 19-8.
  • Game 5, baby! For the first time since 2001, we have three division series going the distance. That year, the Mariners beat the Indians, the Yankees beat the A's and the Diamondbacks beat the Cardinals.
  • Ian Kennedy versus Yovani Gallardo. If Gallardo has mastery of his curveball the way he did in Game 1, he's going to be tough to beat. He's on a roll; he has 45 strikeouts and just four walks over his past four starts. If either starter struggles, Daniel Hudson and Zack Greinke both will be available for long relief and would be pitching on four days' rest. But I think the biggest number is this one: The Brewers hit .277 and slugged .461 at home (versus .246 and .391, respectively, on the road). They love Miller Park. They're the favorites, but you never know ... one hanging curveball to Goldschmidt or Justin Upton with a couple of runners on ...

Gibson's D-backs win Game 3 their way

October, 5, 2011

The “Kirk Gibson made mistakes” meme is already a big part of the storyline of the Brewers-Diamondbacks series, but it’s worth crediting the Snakes’ skipper for sticking with what worked during the season and riding it to a decisive 8-1 Game 3 win on Tuesday night. In what could have turned out to be the D-backs’ last game of the season, Gibson reaped the benefits from more than a few things that helped Arizona shock everyone and show up in the postseason in the first place.

Like turning to a rookie starter in an elimination game. Make no mistake, Josh Collmenter can pitch in this league, and his good work in 2011 is a big part of the reason why the D-backs are here. Between Zach Duke’s ineffectiveness and Jason Marquis’ injury, they needed an organizational soldier to step up, and the 25-year-old did just that, delivering 15 quality starts in 24 turns.

On his way up through the farm system, Collmenter didn’t get here slathered with scouts’ drool and effusive praise of everything about him the way that the Rays’ Matt Moore did. Before the year, Collmenter didn’t even merit a top-30 mention from Baseball America on its prospect list, because a career minor-league track record of a 3.50 ERA and more than eight strikeouts per nine don’t mean much if your stuff is seen as pedestrian.

But after Tuesday night’s masterful seven-inning effort, Collmenter joined Moore on an exclusive list of two. According to Elias, Collmenter is just the second rookie starter in postseason history to go at least seven innings while allowing two hits or less. As ESPN researcher Mark Simon noted, from 1903-2010, no rookies did it, but in less than a week, we got to see it done twice.

Finesse right-handers generally don’t even get the benefit of their own term, like “crafty lefty” or “professional hitter.” “Strike thrower” becomes almost a dismissive, left-handed compliment for this kind of right-hander, which seems appropriate for Collmenter. He’ll never impress a speed gun any more than he did scouts. Instead, he’s someone whose fastball moves about as fast as your basic workmanlike lefty -- high 80s if he gets the benefit of a back wind, or with the AC in Chase Field cranked to max.

But part of what makes Collmenter such a funky foe is an over-the-top delivery that can sometimes make it seem as though the ball’s shooting out from behind his head, and mix that in with changeups and cutters. If you can upset hitters’ timing as effectively as Collmenter did all season and did again on Tuesday, you don’t need to impress those things. This isn’t the Olympics, it’s baseball, and Collmenter’s sterling start is just the latest proof there’s more than one way to skin the strike zone.

One of the other things that delivered a big win for the D-backs was Gibson’s continuing faith in another rookie, Paul Goldschmidt. Some risk-averse managers might have ducked controversy by turning to Lyle Overbay on the last legs of his career -- there’s little that Overbay hasn’t been reputed of doing over the course of his career, hitting for power (a little), playing good D (sometimes), being clutch or a good guy or all the other qualities that get appended to a player after he’s reached a certain age. For all that, Gibson stuck with talent, and Goldschmidt responded again in this series, hammering the grand slam in the fifth.

It’s the addition of these key rookies, and the courage to trust them in October, that helped put Arizona in this series in the first place, so it’s fitting that they’re responsible for delivering their first postseason win now. This kind of development isn’t exactly redemptive, however. The Diamondbacks still need to win two more games for this one blowout win to rise to that level. But it provides an important reminder that they belong. And if Kirk Gibson wins the National League Manager of the Year Award -- as seems likely -- then Tuesday night’s outcome seems like a nice reminder of that as well.

Up to a point, so Arizona can afford to bask now, for at least one night. Unfortunately, there’s always tomorrow, and a new set of questions. Before we even get there, though, there are ones to ask right now.

Like, why Gibson would use first David Hernandez and then J.J. Putz with a seven-run lead? The odds that the D-backs will need both of them on Wednesday in Game 4 are pretty close to 100 percent. Joe Saunders, nifty innings-eater that he may be over the full season’s six-month stretch, isn’t an overpowering ace or even a multi-trick pony a la Collmenter. Pitching at home this year, Saunders allows a run every other inning while allowing a WHIP pushing 1.5. So even on a night like Tuesday night, when so much for the D-backs went right, Gibson can give you cause for asking questions.

Christina Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com. You can follow her on Twitter.
In the top of the sixth inning, the sun and shadows from the window panels at Miller Park started creeping between the pitcher's mound and home plate.

[+] EnlargeYovani Gallardo
AP Photo/Morry GashYovani Gallardo was dealing Saturday, pitching eight strong innings with nine K's.
Considering the way Yovani Gallardo was dealing, that's the last thing the Arizona Diamondbacks needed to see. After he escaped the top of the first inning, when Ryan Braun threw out Willie Bloomquist at home plate, Gallardo took over Game 1 of the National League Division Series for the Milwaukee Brewers, getting ahead of hitters with his fastball and relying on great control of a sharp, down-breaking curveball to get strikeouts, routine fly balls and easy grounders. The only hard-hit balls off him were Justin Upton's scorched single in the first and Lyle Overbay's deep ball to center in the seventh that Nyjer Morgan tracked down on the warning track.

Gallardo was a bit of the surprise starter for the Brewers, considering Zack Greinke led the NL in strikeout rate, was 9-3 with a 2.56 ERA in the second half and was 11-0 at home. But Gallardo finished the regular season so strong -- 36 strikeouts in his final three starts -- that manager Ron Roenicke bypassed his final start and held him back for the opener.

For teams such as Milwaukee that don't have an obvious No. 1 guy, it can be the most important decision a manager makes all postseason. Since 1995, teams that win the first game of the division series are 47-17 in taking the series -- including 29-3 in the National League. So while some were wondering why Gallardo got the ball over Greinke, he showed why on this day. His curveball was so good that at times the Diamondbacks knew it was coming and still couldn't do anything with it.

The Brewers were helped by two questionable decisions by Arizona manager Kirk Gibson. Now, generally speaking, intentional walks are a bad idea. The risk of opening up a big inning by putting more runners on base outweighs the benefits gained from facing a weaker hitter or gaining a platoon advantage.

The first decision came in the sixth after Yuniesky Betancourt tripled with two outs to bring up No. 8 hitter Jonathan Lucroy, with the Brewers leading 1-0. This is often an automatic intentional walk situation in the National League, especially in a one-run game. But Gallardo is a good hitter -- .221 this year, with four doubles and a home run, nine homers in his career. I can't fault Gibson too much for this one. Ian Kennedy even made a good pitch to Lucroy, a riding fastball that Lucroy managed to bloop into left field for an RBI single.

The second decision, however, was the game-breaker. In the seventh, Braun doubled with two outs to bring up Prince Fielder. Now, Fielder led the majors with 32 intentional walks for a reason. Against right-handed pitchers, his OPS of 1.046 was second-best in baseball to Miguel Cabrera. In Milwaukee, where Fielder had an OPS 227 points higher than on the road, he's like Babe Ruth. He loves Miller Park as much Brewers fans love beer and tailgating. Down 2-0, with two outs and a right-hander on the mound and right-handed Rickie Weeks on deck, you simply cannot let Prince Fielder beat you.

The postseason is not the time to show extraordinary faith in your players.

Kennedy hung a curveball inside and Fielder lined it into the first few rows in right field. Brewers 4, Diamondbacks 0. Game over.

After the game, Gibson admitted to making a mistake: "I left [Kennedy] in and that was a bad decision on my part."

Gallardo gave up a home run to Ryan Roberts in the eighth, losing his shutout and failing to become the second Brewers starter in their postseason history to allow no runs (Mike Caldwell threw a 10-0 shutout in Game 1 of the 1982 World Series). But he recovered to strike out Gerardo Parra, Sean Burroughs and Bloomquist, his seventh, eighth and ninth K's of the game.

John Axford, he of the 1890s mustache and 43 consecutive saves chances converted, came on to finish it off. And now the Diamondbacks have to face Greinke in Game 2. Roenicke is looking pretty good right now.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.