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Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2011

The Cards Were Ready for History's Call

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Much as it may pain Brewers fans, the St. Louis Cardinals earned their World Series trophy. As Ryan Braun said after the Cardinals ended Milwaukee's season, “The best teams get to the postseason. The hottest team wins it.” And maybe the most resilient, as the Cardinals showed against Texas in a Game 6 unmatched for late-inning drama.

Not that manager Tony La Russa—who decided to go out on top and retired Monday—had a perfect World Series; witness his trouble with a technological device that's been around since the 19th century.

Artie
: It's interesting that the last two games were in St. Louis. No one's brought this up, but I will: sign-stealing. La Russa was always making accusations about stuff like that, just to mess with the other team. Why wouldn't he do it himself? Where's Lt. Columbo when we need him?

Frank
: If he was doing it, he sure cut it close. The Cards were down to their last strike twice in Game 6.

Artie
: Jeez, how gut-busting that must be for Rangers fans.

Frank
: As we said last week, everything takes on an air of inevitability after a playoff is decided. But one better-located pitch, or an eighth of an inch difference in a bat's point of contact, and they're dancin' in Dallas.

Artie
: Tough as it is to say, the Cardinals had a great club the last two months. Besides the big names they had solid hitters throughout the lineup, with David Freese, Yadier Molina and Allen Craig. Better than what the Brewers had.

Frank
: Last year there was weakness at 6 through 8 in the order, and this year, with Casey McGehee's drop-off, it was often 5 through 8.

Artie
: So true. When Rickie Weeks came back from his ankle injury, he wasn't close to 100%.

Frank
: La Russa must have especially loved the Game 6 miracle because it overshadowed the Game 5 fiasco involving his bullpen phone.

Artie
: Holy cow, was that bizarre. What, somebody with Texas didn't pay the bill for that line, hoping it would mess up Tony's endless pitching changes?

Frank: La Russa's first gig in retirement should be one of those “Can you hear me now?” commercials. First his bullpen guy apparently didn't catch Jason Motte's name, and on the second call he somehow heard “Lance Lynn” instead. By the time Motte finally got to the mound, the Cards were behind.

Artie
: Remember a few years back when we got into the Miller Park dugouts?

Frank
: When they let season-ticket folks come to the ballpark on certain days to have catches.

Artie
: Right. I remember looking at the dugout phones and thinking, “Wow, are these Alexander Graham Bell originals?"

Frank
: Do you suppose when Bell said, “Mr. Watson, come here,” he was making a pitching change? I wonder if Watson was a righty or a lefty.

Artie
: Anyway, seems like they can use a league-wide phone upgrade. Or maybe they should just rely on cell phones or texting or tweeting or big signs with the guys' numbers on them.

Frank
: More and more players tweet these days. Maybe Bud Selig could just decree that managers and bullpen coaches must be tweet-literate.

Artie
: Or, if he wants to be a job-creator, have every bullpen line go through a switchboard with a Lily Tomlin clone to get the messages straight.

Frank
: Good ol' “Ernestine.” She'd have stumped Tony with, “Is this the party to whom I am speaking?”

Artie
: Maybe he would have worn out his bullpens a little less. By the way, did you notice how uncharacteristically mellow La Russa was about the bullpen thing—and really the whole postseason? I think he got hold of some medical marijuana, maybe because of those shingles he had during the season. The players were probably wondering why “In a Gadda da Vida” was playing all the time in the clubhouse.

Frank
: If so, the mellowness must have been contagious. They were relaxed enough to hand the Rangers three blown saves in Game 6.

Artie
: Tony probably used the same source that supplies Albert Pujols with whatever it is that makes him such a bulked-up specimen.

Frank
: Another of your favorite theories. As usual I'll leave it right there.

Speaking of Technology...

Frank: Last week Mr. Selig, rather quietly in a Dallas radio interview, said Major League Baseball plans to "enlarge replay a little bit.”

Artie
: That's our Bud. Address a problem several years after it's become obvious.

Frank
: He said he was concerned about incorrect calls that television viewers can see clearly within a few seconds. “We have made that decision and we'll add a couple of things” for replays, he said, but added, "If you're going to start replaying every controversial decision or every close call, I think that hurts the sport."

Artie
: Agreed, but it's been clear for years that they could use all the camera angles to review fair-foul or catch-trap calls.

Frank
: MLB started using replay on “boundary” home run calls—fair or foul, in the stands or not, spectator interference—in August 2008. Since then just about every postseason has had important calls that were wrong—including the one by Ron Kulpa on a first-base tag play that led to a four-run St. Louis inning in Game 3.

Artie
: He acknowledged that he missed it—a genuine "mea Kulpa.”

Frank
: Selig said he was worried about long delays while calls are reviewed, adding, “I am a pace-of-the-game guy.”

Artie
: That's rich. What pace? He doesn't do a thing about umpires calling a puny strike zone or pitchers and hitters wasting time, except for some empty words in spring training every couple of years. Why should delays be OK for home-run calls but not for other plays that might be just as important?

Frank
: No one wants ball-strike calls under review. But fair-foul and catch-trap issues are usually obvious to TV viewers within a few seconds. For those and tag plays, you could give the official scorer the ability to alert umpires when replays show a call is questionable. It ain't like the game is zipping along; after a play it can take a minute or more for the next pitch, and in that time TV often shows several replays.

Artie
: Or instead of the official scorer, add an umpire as a replay official in the press box. With all the revenue MLB makes, they can afford it. Just one thing: better make sure Ernestine isn't on her break.

Burrowing Badgers


Frank
: A second straight agonizing loss for Wisconsin, this time at Ohio State.

Artie
: If I hadn't noticed the home uniforms changed from green to red, I'd have sworn I was watching the Michigan State game again.

Frank
: An early lead fades, a punt gets blocked, a late comeback makes up two scores, but a bomb to the end zone ruins UW's night.

Artie
: Night games on the road must be especially tough on players. There's all day in unfamiliar surroundings to stew about things and expend nervous energy. But still, they should have won.

Frank
: Now the Badgers are two losses behind Penn State in their division, so a spot in the Big Ten title game is in jeopardy. But the Nittany Lions, after their bye this week, have to host Nebraska, play at Ohio State and finish at Camp Randall.

Artie
: Meanwhile, the Badgers play Purdue, at Minnesota and at Illinois before the finale. They can salvage the season, but only if they get back to 60-minute efforts!

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