Tag Archives: world series

A Day In The Life of a Believer

I have two minutes to write before getting my kids ready for school, and myself ready for work. Here’s what I have to say today.

I will run into and hear from scores of people who will either say out loud, or with their eyes and body language, “I was right to doubt them — they couldn’t pull it off after all,” or, “Turns out you were wrong to believe the Sox would come all the way back, eh? ” My response to them is the same today as it would have been if the Sox had won game 7:

“Believing isn’t about being right or wrong, it’s a way of life. And life’s a heck of a lot more fun when you expect the unreal.”

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Who’s Got Mojo?

If you’re known to many as a serious Red Sox fan, you’ve probably heard the following questions several times the last few days: “How do you think the Sox will do in the postseason?” and “Do you think the Sox can win it all even if Lowell and Drew are hurt?”

I would be a terrible sportscaster for a national network, because my heart and my brain always tell me that the Red Sox are going to go all the way. This was true even before 2004. And the heart overwhelms the brain when it comes to predicting the future. I can find plenty of rational reasons to pick the Red Sox to win the 2008 World Series (the best top-three starters in Beckett, Lester, and Matsuzaka and their incredible home field advantage top the list), but my feeling of expectation is purely a gut feeling, purely my genetic programming, purely a belief that the Red Sox uniform possesses more magic than any other uniform.

And I don’t put much stock in all of the analysis of different teams when trying to predict a World Series champion. Who has the best bullpen, which team is battling the most injuries, whose offense is most powerful….  Sure, it’s fun to read all of the comparative information and it makes watching the games more enjoyable to know each team’s strengths and vulnerabilities, but when it comes to the postseason, only two things really matter. If you’re thinking, “pitching, and pitching,” you’re right, but perhaps even more important are mojo, and getting hot at the right time.

Whichever team wins the 2008 World Series, it won’t be because of things you can analyze ahead of time. This is why the postseason is such a remarkable ride. We really, really, really don’t know what’s going to happen — but we DO know that several players will step up like they never have before, and several will step up like they always do. (And, unfortunately, goats will emerge, as well.) And watching human beings perform like gods on the diamond in front of a national audience of millions of people in the biggest games of their lives provides a feeling of admiration, awe, and excitement that’s unmatched.

If the Red Sox win the World Series, it will be because of a clutch grand slam by Jason Varitek… it will be because of a stunning barehanded play by Jed Lowrie with two outs in the ninth… it will be because of four innings of scoreless relief by Paul Byrd in the 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th innings… it will be because of a perfectly executed hit and run by Alex Cora… it will be because Jason Bay bats .500. None of these things is what’s being written about by those who are picking the Sox to take home the trophy, but deep down we all know that it’s mojo — both team mojo and individual mojo — that will separate the winners from the losers this postseason.

I’d prefer to have Lowell and Drew in the starting lineups, but if they’re not there, it simply means an opportunity for two other guys to rise to the challenge and define their careers by their performance in 11 victorious contests.

Analysis schmanalysis. Let the drama begin!

It’s October Again (well, almost)

Here we go again. Another long season full of ups and downs ends with a trip for the Red Sox to the ultimate professional baseball tournament. No, it doesn’t get old. No, none of us in Red Sox Nation takes this for granted. Every season is like a separate lifetime — yes, we won the World Series in previous lifetimes (2004, 2007) but this feeling of anticipation, while vaguely familiar, is always fresh and new.

The leaves are changing, it’s October again. Back to school night, it’s October again. Pumpkins on neighbors’ front steps, it’s October again. The Red Sox carry millions of the Nation’s hearts with them into the American League Division Series, it’s October again.

Which players will surprise us with their heroics? Will Lowrie hit .450 in the postseason? Will Casey get a huge pinch hit? Will Kotsay make a game-saving catch? Will Ortiz continue to be the greatest clutch hitter in history? Will Masterson throw 10 scoreless playoff innings? Will Coco Crisp steal a base that we’ll compare to the Dave Roberts theft of 2004? Will Beckett be Beckett? This much we know — winning the World Series will require some “unlikely” heroes, a-la Dave Roberts and Mark Bellhorn in 2004, and Jacoby Ellsbury and J.D. Drew in 2007. Who will step up this year? I can’t wait to find out.

The last two championship teams had future hall of famers Manny Ramirez and Curt Schilling. Will we miss them? Time will tell if there’s enough magic in the bats, gloves, and arms of the current roster to carry on the tradition of winning that Manny and Schill helped to instill here. Perhaps Jon Lester and Jason Bay are at the front-end of postseason careers that will, in the end, compare to those of Ramirez and Schilling. Does that sound crazy? Well, it should. But hey, anything is possible, even the impossible. It’s October again.

Is Curt Schilling a Hall of Famer?

When I first heard that Schill would be out for the season because of shoulder surgery, I felt a cold shiver go down my spine. Deep down, I was expecting him to return just in time for the playoffs and play a key role – even if it meant pitching one important inning in the ALCS. Curt Schilling in the postseason is like Michael Jordan in the Finals and Tiger Woods in the Majors. Think that’s an exaggeration? Check the stats (or just trust me, he’s MONEY when the games are big — even when his body is broken).

Over the last two weeks, there have been several opinions expressed about Schilling’s case to be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. My gut tells me he’s Hall-worthy, but one of the main lessons of Michael Lewis’s excellent book, Moneyball, is that you can’t always trust your gut — you’ve got to do the analysis. So, I did the analysis and now it’s obvious to me that my gut isn’t lying to me — Schilling belongs in the Hall of Fame. So, here are my rebuttals to the three most common arguments against Curt Schilling’s candidacy:

The Bert Blyleven Argument: Several writers and commentators have pointed to Bert Blyleven’s failure to garner 75% of the vote, reasoning that since Blyleven isn’t in the Hall, Schilling shouldn’t be in the Hall either. But an in-depth look at Blyleven’s career makes it clear that he, too, belongs in the Hall of Fame and that the sportswriters who vote have really blown it by not electing Blyleven. Only Nolan Ryan, Steve Carlton, Randy Johnson, and Roger Clemens have more career strikeouts, and when he retired, Blyleven was third all-time in this category. All-time! Can you imagine if the guy who’s #5 in career hits wasn’t in the Hall yet? (That’s former Red Sox star outfielder, Tris Speaker, with 3,514 hits). It would devalue the Hall to leave out Tris Speaker (who, like Schilling won three World Series, two of them with the Red Sox). Blyleven’s also top-ten all-time in career starts, and his 60 career shutouts rank 9th on the all-time list. Every other pitcher among the top-20 in shutouts is in the Hall. Why not Blyleven? Beats me. He’s 13th all-time in innings pitched (4,970) and all twelve of the pitchers ahead of him in this category are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, as well. And while he didn’t have 300 career wins (which seems to provide a ticket to the Hall), he came damn close with 287. Plus, Blyleven was excellent in the postseason too — in three postseasons, he was 5-1 with an E.R.A. of 2.47, and his teams won the World Series TWICE. Both Blyleven AND Schilling belong in the Hall of Fame. So let’s stop using Blyleven as a barrier to Schilling.

And anyway, it’s just as easy to find players whose inclusion in the Hall of Fame support Schilling’s case — Phil Rizzutto (in 13 seasons, his lifetime B.A. was .273, but he won 7 World Series with the Yankees), Ozzie Smith (.262 lifetime B.A. and 94th all-time with 2,460 hits, but won 13 Gold Gloves and played in 3 World Series, winning one of them); Tony Perez (in 23 years his lifetime B.A. was .279 and he had 2,732 hits, which places his 50th on the all-time list; but his real claim to fame is that he played in five World Series and won two of them as an integral member of the Big Red Machine). I believe that all three of these guys belong in the Hall of Fame, but none of them has a case that’s stronger than Curt Schilling’s.

I know, those are hitters and you want to compare Schilling’s career to other pitchers who are in the Hall, right? OK. Here are four great comparisons: Hal Newhouser, Jim Bunning, Don Drysdale, and Catfish Hunter.

Hal Newhouser won only 207 games in his 17-season career (with an E.R.A. of 3.06), but during the seven year span of 1944 to 1950, he was dominant, going 151-80. He won the MVP award in 1944 and 1945 (the only pitcher in history to win the award in consecutive years), and he was second in MVP voting in 1946 (this was before the dawning of the Cy Young Award, in 1956). For his career, Newhouser pitched 212 complete games, and during his dominant seven years, he completed 136 of the 240 games he started (57%). Newhouser pitched in two World Series, winning one of them, but his performance wasn’t Newhouser-esque — he went 2-1 with an E.R.A. of 6.53 in 20.2 innings. And during his long career with the Tigers, he had a winning record in only seven of his 17 seasons. Take away those seven winning years, and his record during the other ten seasons was a mediocre 56-70. Still, all baseball historians know that Hal Newhouser belongs in the Hall of Fame. And if Newhouser’s a Hall of Famer, then so is Curt Schilling.

Jim Bunning was 224-184 with an E.R.A. of 3.27 during his 17-year career. He won 20 games only once, never won a Cy Young Award (though he did place second in the voting once), and he never pitched in the postseason. He did play on nine all-star teams, and he led the league in strikeouts three times (he’s 17th on the all-time K list with 2,855, which is 261 less than Schilling, who is 14th on the career list with 3,116, one shy of Bob Gibson’s 3,117). Jim Bunning belongs in the Hall of Fame, but his stats reveal that he was a lot like Curt Schilling – without the rings. So if Bunning’s a Hall of Famer, then so is Curt Schilling.

Don Drysdale was 209-166 during his 14-year career. He won 20 games twice, won the Cy Young Award once, and like Schilling, played in five postseasons, winning the World Series three of those times (he, too, was a winner). During his five World Series, Drysdale was 3-3 with an E.R.A. that mirrored his career E.R.A. of 2.95. He played on eight all-star teams and led the league in strikeouts three times (his 2,486 career strikeouts place him 30th all-time). Drysdale’s career was relatively short, so his career numbers don’t rank him among the all-time leaders in any category. But he was GREAT during the period he did play, and he played a major role on THREE World Series-winning teams. Does Don Drysdale belong in the Hall of Fame? Yes. And his inclusion means Schilling belongs in the Hall, as well.

Jim “Catfish” Hunter was the ace pitcher of the A’s dynasty, compiling a career won-lost record of 224-166, with an E.R.A. of 3.26 in fifteen seasons. His 2,012 strikeouts place him 60th on the all-time list. He won 20 games five times (in consecutive years, 1971-1975), was an all-star eight times, and he pitched in SIX World Series, winning FIVE of them (three as a member of the A’s, and two as a Yankee). His World Series record was 5-3, with an E.R.A. of 3.29, and his overall postseason stats are 9-6, 3.26. Hunter won one Cy Young Award and placed second in the voting once, third once, and fourth once. He pitched one of only 15 9-inning perfect games (ever, including Don Larsen’s WS perfect game) on May 8, 1968. And even with fellow Hall of Famers Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage as his team’s closers, Hunter still completed 181 games, or 38% of the games he started. Schilling’s Hall of Fame case is very similar to Hunter’s — their collection of World Series rings and their individual impact on these teams lead their resumes, and when their career stats are added to their postseason success, you just can’t keep them out of the Hall.

Here’s a summary of how Schilling compares with these four pitchers, plus Bert Blyleven, in various statistical categories:

Wins

1. Bert Blyleven – 287 (27th all-time)

2. Jim Bunning – 224 (67th all-time)

2. Catfish Hunter – 224 (67th all-time)

4. Curt Schilling – 216 (79th all-time)

5. Don Drysdale – 209 (95th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser – 207 (99th all-time)

Winning %

1. Curt Schilling – .597

2. Hal Newhouser – .580

3. Catfish Hunter – .574

4. Don Drysdale – .557

5. Jim Bunning – .549

6. Bert Blyleven – .534

Postseason Record and E.R.A.

1. Curt Schilling – 11-2, 2.23

2. Bert Blyleven – 5-1, 2.47

3. Catfish Hunter – 9-6, 3.26

4. Don Drysdale – 3-3, 2.95

5. Hal Newhouser – 2-1, 6.53

6. Jim Bunning (no postseason appearances)

World Series Championships

1. Catfish Hunter – 5

2. Don Drysdale – 3

2. Curt Schilling – 3

4. Bert Blyleven -2

5. Hal Newhouser – 1

6. Jim Bunning – 0

Strikeouts

1. Bert Blyleven – 3,701 (5th all-time)

2. Curt Schilling – 3,116 (14th all-time)

3. Jim Bunning – 2,855 (17th all-time)

4. Don Drysdale – 2,486 (30th all-time)

5. Catfish Hunter – 2,012 (60th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser – 1,796 (95th all-time)

20-win seasons

1. Catfish Hunter – 5

2. Hal Newhouser – 4

3. Curt Schilling – 3

4. Don Drysdale – 2

5. Jim Bunning -1

6. Bert Blyleven – 1

Placing Top-5 in Cy Young Award Voting, and Cy Young Awards

1. Catfish Hunter – 4 (1)

1. Curt Schilling – 4 (0)

1. Bert Blyleven – 4 (0)

4. Hal Newhouser – 3 times top-5 in MVP voting (2 MVPs)

5. Don Drysdale – 1 (1)

6. Jim Bunning – 1 (0)

All-Star Teams

1. Don Drysdale – 8

1. Catfish Hunter – 8

3. Hal Newhouser – 7

3. Jim Bunning – 7

5. Curt Schilling – 6

6. Bert Blyleven – 2

200-Inning Seasons

1. Bert Blyleven – 16

2. Jim Bunning – 13

3. Don Drysdale – 12

4. Catfish Hunter – 10

5. Curt Schilling – 9

6. Hal Newhouser – 7

Strikeout to Walk Ratio

1. Curt Schilling – 4.38 (2nd all-time, behind Tommy Bond, who pitched from 1874-1884)

2. Don Drysdale – 2.91 (39th all-time)

3. Jim Bunning – 2.86 (43rd all-time)

4. Bert Blyleven – 2.80 (47th all-time)

5. Catfish Hunter – 2.11 (200th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser – 1.44 (643rd all-time)

Walks and Hits Per Inning Pitched (WHIP)

1. Catfish Hunter – 1.13 (42nd all-time)

2. Curt Schilling – 1.14 (44th all-time)

3. Don Drysdale – 1.15 (59th all-time)

4. Jim Bunning – 1.18 (92nd all-time)

5. Bert Blyleven – 1.20 (125th all-time)

6. Hal Newhouser, 1.31 (488th all-time)

The “He Was Never a Dominant Pitcher of his Era” Argument: This is the most frustrating argument of all, because Schilling has been a dominant pitcher during his era. True, he has never won a Cy Young Award, but he has placed second in the voting three times (in 2004 he placed second behind Johan Santana, and in 2002 and 2001 he placed second behind future Hall of Famer Randy Johnson. In 1997, he placed fourth in the voting behind Pedro Martinez of the Expos, Greg Maddux, and Denny Neagle). Schilling has been selected to six All-Star Teams (1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004) and has had three 20-win seasons (2001, 2002, 2004). His career ERA of 3.46 is better than that of Tom Glavine (3.53, and Hall-worthy), Roy Halladay (3.58, and on-track for the Hall), and Josh Beckett (3.75, and on-track for the Hall). He’s 13th all-time in strikeouts (one behind Bob Gibson) and his strikeout to walk ratio (4.38) is the lowest of any pitcher since 1900! And, of course, Schilling is one of the most dominant pitchers in postseason history… more about that below.

The “216 Wins Isn’t Enough” Argument: Now I understand this argument, and taken all by itself, it does have some merit. Schilling is 79th all-time in wins, and there are 30 pitchers with more wins who are Hall-eligible and have not gained enshrinement. These include Tommy John (288), Bert Blyleven (287), Jim Kaat (283), Jack Morris (254), Frank Tanana (240), Luis Tiant (229), Jerry Koosman (222), Joe Niekro (221), and Mickey Lolich (217). There are several active pitchers who are in the same zone as Schilling: Jamie Moyer (237), Kenny Rogers (215), Pedro Martinez (211, and Hall-worthy), John Smoltz (210, and Hall-worthy), Andy Pettitte (209). Like I said, if career wins was the sole indicator of Hall worthiness, Schilling probably wouldn’t make it.

But it surprises me when writers say, “He needs one more 15-win season to make it,” or, “Forty more wins, and he’d have my vote.” Why does this surprise me? Because I would expect educated sportswriters and historians of the game to understand that two more 15-win seasons wouldn’t change the monumental impact of Schilling’s career. Yes, they would help him compare more favorably with other greats on a list of career statistics, but that’s all. All the things that make Schilling a Hall of Famer have already occurred in his career. Anything he does from now until he retires is just stat-piling (unless, of course, he wins another World Series — which is possible). Some guys are in the Hall because their longevity and consistency helped them amass amazing career stats. And some guys are in the Hall because of the undeniable impact of their careers on Major League Baseball (Newhouser, Drysdale, and Hunter are the best examples among pitchers). If Schilling heals and pitches a couple more seasons, he’ll rise in the “longevity” category, but he’s already an elite force in the “impact” category.

The Greatness Factor: The evidence that pushes Schilling into Hall of Fame territory is the key role he played on three World Series-winning teams. THREE. It’s not an exaggeration to say that, without Schilling on those three rosters (2001 Diamondbacks, 2004 Red Sox, 2007 Red Sox), NONE of those teams would have won it all. We all know about his clutch performance in the “bloody sock” game – the critical sixth game of the ALCS in Yankee Stadium, when he pitched with fresh sutures holding together his ankle. But let’s not forget that Schilling was the co-MVP of the 2001 World Series (as a Diamondback), in which he pitched 21.1 innings, striking out 26 Yankees and walking only two. His World Series E.R.A. that year was 1.69. All in all, during the 2001 postseason, Schilling was 4-0 with a 1.12 E.R.A., and he had 56 strikeouts and 6 walks in 48.1 innings.

“So that’s only one postseason,” you say. “Lots of guys get hot in one postseason. That doesn’t make you a Hall of Famer.” Fine. So let’s look at Schilling’s performance on the 2004 and 2007 World Championship Red Sox teams. During these two postseasons combined, Schilling went 6-1 with an E.R.A. of 3.20. He won the critical sixth game of BOTH ALCS series (2004 vs. Yanks, 2007 vs. Indians) with the Sox facing elimination, and in BOTH games he won with heart more than velocity. In the 2004 and 2007 World Series combined, Schilling started two games (remember, both series were four-game sweeps) and went 2-0 with an E.R.A. of 0.79. In total, Schilling’s postseason record is 11-2 with an E.R.A. of 2.23. He played in the postseason five times, and his team won the World Series in three of those appearances (amazing, given that in the Wild Card era, each playoff team should have a one-in-eight chance of winning it all).

Curt Schilling is one of the greatest “winners” in the history of Major League Baseball. Sure, he won less than half as many regular season games as Cy Young won (512), but he’s among the elite in terms of winning BIG games. And when it comes right down to it, isn’t winning BIG games what it’s all about? Isn’t winning the World Series what it’s all about? Pitching greatness has several forms, and not all of them include 300 career wins. Hall of Fame members would be diminished by the omission of Curt Schilling. Not everyone loves the guy’s schtick (personally, I love his honesty and his determination to be himself), but no one can deny that he pitched his guts out every start, that he was among the most prepared and cerebral pitchers in the game’s history (who else returns to the dugout and immediately takes notes on the inning he just pitched?) and that he was one of the all-time greats when the pressure was most intense and the stakes were highest.

So, baseball writers, do your job and cast a Hall of Fame vote for Curt Schilling. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to put a check next to Bert Blyleven’s name, too.

Curt Schilling spent eight years as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies (1993-2000), and it was as a pitcher for this team that he showed the first signs of greatness. For a Philadelphia Enquirer writer’s take on why Schill belongs in the Hall of Fame, click here.

Watching Game 4 In The Dark

Asleep_on_couch I’m sitting here in the dark in my living room watching game 4 of the World Series – potentially the clincher for the Red Sox. Why is it dark in here? Because my wife and I caved in to my 8 year-old son’s begging to stay up to watch the first three innings. He’s lying on the couch, under a blanket with his head on his favorite pillow. It’s a school night, so this really isn’t model parenting. But the kid has rooted for the team every day since spring training, and they way he said this evening, “Mommy, it isn’t just a baseball game, it’s the World Series!” made us realize that, while he’s only in third grade, he’s as big a Red Sox fan as any grown-up we know. Of all the Sox fans out there tonight, this kid deserves a chance to see some of this game.

Earlier today, my son made me promise to wake him up in the ninth inning if the Red Sox have a chance to win the game, so he could witness the final moments and see the celebration on the field. “Wake me up if they’re down by ten runs or less in the last inning,” he said, implying that even a deficit that large is not too big for this baseball club to overcome. No, I told him, I’ll wake you up in the ninth inning if the Red Sox are leading, or tied, or if the tying run comes to the plate.

He’s been loquacious all night, asking me his customary impossible baseball questions, such as: “Daddy, if a game is suspended and they schedule it to be continued at a later date, but then one of the players who was in the lineup for one of the teams gets traded to another team before the game can be resumed, can that team substitute any player for the traded player?” I don’t even know where to find the answer to that question. All of a sudden, he’s quiet. He has fallen asleep before the end of the third inning. I’ll get him up later if necessary…

If this were a day game, or if it started earlier in the night, my son would be able to see every moment live. And he wouldn’t be lying under a blanket on the couch, struggling to stay awake – he’d be watching the way he normally does: bounding around the room, playing his own baseball game in his head, making diving, game-saving, ESPN-highlight plays on the couch over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. It really is a sight to see. When he’s watching a game, our living room becomes a gymnasium and the whole house shakes. He actually becomes a participant in the drama that’s unfolding on the TV, burning hundreds of calories while I sit there eating nachos.

My brother just called me from his home outside of D.C. He is the most rabid, passionate, loyal Red Sox fan I know. He drove to Cleveland for game 5 of the ALCS and drove all the way back to D.C. immediately following the game, to get to work. That’s right, he drove something like 450 miles through the wee hours of the morning on an adrenaline high. He’s 37 years old, but the Red Sox make him (and all of us) behave like a college kid…

When he called, I asked him how his feelings about this Series are different from 2004. “I’m not as elated as I was then. And I just feel more confident about our chances. Even in the 9th inning of game 4 vs. the Cardinals in 2004 (with the Sox up, 3-0), I thought they could come back. But even if we lose tonight, we have Josh Beckett as insurance.”

We need to finish these guys off tonight. The Rockies have magic in their back pockets, as we saw over the last month. And this is baseball, after all. Anything CAN happen and anything DOES happen in this game. You can have a commanding 3-0 lead in a series, and a 3-0 lead in the 7th inning of game 4 (as the Sox do now), then one poor defensive play later (or one walk and stolen base later, as in game 4 of the 2004 ALCS), it can all start to slip away.

Off to focus on the conclusion of this one…