Archive for Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Story lines surprisingly plentiful

From controversy to strategy, this Series has it all

October 24, 2006

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— Pitching to Albert Pujols, chasing Christy Mathewson, and Smudgegate.

Hey, this ain't so bad!

Turns out, the World Series that nobody wanted has been pretty entertaining so far. In the first two games alone there was enough controversy, questionable strategy and conspiracy talk to keep Oliver Stone AND Michael Moore happy.

Plus, it won't be a sweep, which is a major step up from the past two years.

All right, so the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers aren't exactly the sexiest teams in baseball. They're short on stars, they never wear pinstripes and they don't believe in age-old curses.

But there's all kinds of intriguing stuff going on here. Fun story lines, even if no one is watching.

To start with, Kenny Rogers is closing in on an astonishing slice of history - with or without that brownish smudge on the palm of his pitching hand that TV cameras caught in Game 2.

Has Rogers been cheating all along? Did St. Louis manager La Russa back off because he and Tigers skipper Jim Leyland are such good friends? And if so, did that upset some Cardinals players?

"I'm not going to chew yesterday's breakfast," Leyland said. "I had the Pujols situation the first day when you guys had a field day."

Come on, this is great theater.

Better than a soap opera.

The 41-year-old Rogers, who on Sunday night became the oldest starting pitcher to win a World Series game, has tossed 23 shutout innings this postseason. He is only the second hurler to have three scoreless starts in one postseason - Mathewson threw three shutouts (27 innings) for the New York Giants against Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics in the 1905 World Series.

In the dugouts, two of baseball's most recognizable and intense managers are matching wits - and their moves are making the difference. Leyland acknowledged he made a costly decision when he chose not to walk Pujols with first base open in Game 1.

Of course, the big slugger hit a two-run homer off rookie Justin Verlander, and the Cardinals cruised to a 7-2 victory.

Leyland, beloved all over Motown for engineering such a quick turnaround with the long-moribund Tigers, was heavily criticized for that call and took the heat himself.

The next night, Leyland lifted Rogers after eight innings of two-hit ball and brought in closer Todd Jones, who nearly blew a three-run lead.

Now the Series has shifted to St. Louis for Game 3 on Tuesday night, and will go at least five games. It looks as though it could swing back and forth all the way to Game 6 or 7.

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