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Archive for Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A look back at the MLB postseason

November 3, 2010

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Long after Brian Wilson fired a slider past Nelson Cruz for the final out in the Giants’ 3-1 victory, fans lingered near both dugouts at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Fans wearing orange were euphoric, celebrating the Giants’ first World Series victory since the franchise left the Polo Grounds. The ones wearing red and blue seemed almost as happy, however, cheering wildly when manager Ron Washington and his players emerged from the dugout for on-field interviews or wistful looks around the site of the Rangers’ first trip to the Series.

After the last out in Game 5, the grateful crowd of 52,045 chanted, “Let’s go Rangers!” in appreciation of the best season in the 39 years since Bob Short moved his Washington Senators here.

There were no real losers in baseball’s 2010 World Series, and few even in the long October ride — although Fox wouldn’t have minded more people around the country following along. In many ways, this was one of the smoothest postseasons ever, at least since the three-tiered playoffs began in 1995.

There were no instant classic games — extended, back-and-forth affairs with surprise endings. But the run of pitching excellence that began with Roy Halladay’s no-hitter in Game 1 of the Division Series was fun to watch, and there were lots of intriguing storylines. I should know as well as anybody. I covered 19 of the 32 games, making it to seven of the eight stadiums involved (sorry about that, Cincinnati).

Some observations:

Best game: Phillies 4, Reds 0, Game 1, NLDS. It’s impossible to overlook the second postseason no-hitter ever. The lasting fact is Halladay throwing first-pitch strikes to 25 of 28 hitters. The lasting image is the excitement of fans in the stands at Citizens Bank Park.

Best manager: Bruce Bochy, Giants. He didn’t exactly change lines on the fly, but he did shuffle personnel on a team that featured only one real RBI man, first baseman Aubrey Huff (the team leader with 86). In the end, he drew on his experience from 12 seasons in San Diego to dial up winning combinations. No one has done more with less throughout his tenure as manager, and it showed.

Best scene: Bobby Cox sheepishly emerging from the dugout for a curtain call after the Giants eliminated the Braves with a 3-2 victory in Game 4 at Turner Field. It’s true that there were empty seats for that Monday night game, but the 44,532 there were into every pitch. Atlanta baseball fans are like your friends who play Sudoku. The ones who get it, really get it.

Biggest surprise: The Twins getting swept by the Yankees in the first round. That should have been a great series, but Ron Gardenhire’s team failed to fire, losing 6-4 and 5-2 when the series opened at Target Field.

Best player: Cody Ross, Giants. The Marlins import not only hit five home runs, but he hit them when they really counted, including two to help Tim Lincecum beat Halladay in Game 1 of the NLCS in Philadelphia. He wasn’t just swinging for the fences either, he was a tough out. Ross hit .294 with a .390 on-base percentage, thanks to seven walks.

Best pitcher: Brian Wilson, Giants. You wouldn’t go wrong giving this distinction to the Giants’ Matt Cain or the Rangers’ Colby Lewis, but Wilson was 6-for-6 in save situations and held opponents to a Mariano Rivera-like 0.77 WHIP. “The Beard” gave up five hits and struck out 16 in 112⁄3 innings.

Most exciting game: Rangers 5, Rays 1, Game 5, ALDS. Only one of the seven series went the distance, and the combination of Cliff Lee’s pitching and the aggressive baserunning of even slow pokes like Vladimir Guerrero and Bengie Molina made for captivating baseball. This was the biggest game in the history of the Rangers franchise, far bigger than any played in the World Series.

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