On Final Weekend, All the Pieces Not in Place in Playoff Puzzle

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Friday, sept. 29.

In a different era, the Dodgers and Cleveland would have cemented their plans in early September to meet in a World Series that would start next week.  Then came divisional play, the wild card and now the second wild card that keeps teams and fans alike engaged in cities where interest would have flagged long ago under the old system where just two teams made the playoffs. The down side is the staggering length of postseason games and the fact that the season ends after Halloween and could feature games in Chicago and/or Cleveland which may be inundated by snow at that time of year.

The American League is basically set.  The Indians have clinched their division, the Red Sox will soon lock up theirs and Houston has never been challenged in the AL West. The wild card game will feature the Yankees and Twins in the Bronx where the Yanks dominate most of their foes-particularly the Twins.

In the senior circuit the Nationals pretty much clinched baseball’s worst division on May 6 when the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard wrecked his shoulder and the team’s season.  The Dodgers, in spite of their 1-16 spiral in late August clinched their division last week and the Cubs are the Central Division champs as of a couple of days ago. The D-Backs are the first wild card team.  The question is, who do they face in the NL’s “play-in” game?  It could be the Rockies or the Brewers who are still  hanging on by a thread.  With the Rockies two games ahead and with 3 games left, the Rockies have the tougher assignment.  They wrap up their season hosting the Dodgers while the Brewers face the Cardinals in St. Louis. The Brewers simply must sweep this series.  One loss and they’re finished.  Meantime they have to hope the Rockies lose at least one game against the Dodgers who have recently looked more like the dominating Dodgers of the early summer. As the Dodgers set their playoff rotation they send out Hyun-Jin Ryu who hasn’t won a game since late August against the Rockies. As the Brewers chase the Rockies they appropriately send Chase Anderson to the hill against the Cardinals’ John Gant. Gant, a Georgia native was transferred from baseball purgatory in Atlanta to mediocrity in St. Louis.  He turned 25 last month and made his first start last week after being a reliever most of the year.

The Yankees have little to play for, pretty much knowing they’re facing the Twins next week.  They just have to hope nobody gets hurt as they play a day game against the Blue Jays.  Masahiro Tanaka makes his final regular season start for the Yankees against a Jays’ offense that hit 3 home runs off  him last weekend in Toronto. The Cubs host the Reds in today’s other matinee. The Cubs start Jose Quintana who began his season on the south side of Chicago with one of baseball’s worst teams.  The Colombian native has never been close to the playoffs until now when it looks like he could start the Cubs’ first postseason game. As far back as 2006 he was a pro, beginning with the Mets and joining the Yankees’ minor league system after a season-long ban in 2007 for drug use. At 28 the Cubs hope he’s the piece they need to cement a second straight World Series appearance. The Mets and Phillies just want the nightmare to end as they meet in the season’s final series.  Matt Harvey’s ERA has been nearly 12 since he came off the DL.  The Phillies’ Ben Lively has found that his pitching hasn’t ben_ too lively lately either. The Braves tagged him for 8 hits and 6 runs last time out. The Indians now have 100 wins, joining the Dodgers while the Astros stand at 99 wins. In their division the Astros are 21 games better than their nearest rivals,  the Angels. While the Twins may make the postseason they’re 17 games behind Cleveland.

Back when only two teams made the postseason the Giants met the Indians on this date in 1954. As the game began at the Polo Grounds nobody gave the host team much of a chance.  Back then the leagues traded home field advantage with the AL team hosting in odd-numbered years and the National hosting in even-numbered years like 1954.  The 1996 Yankees would be the first American League team to host game 1 of a World Series in an even-numbered year, which only happened because of the strike that cancelled the 1994 World Series.  The Indians had won the staggering total of 111 games in what was then a 154-game season.  In winning 111 they had tied a record set by the Chicago Cubs in 1906.  But with a record of 97-57 the Giants weren’t chopped liver and proved it in the first game of what would be a 4-game sweep. After this series neither the Polo Grounds in New York nor Cleveland Municipal Stadium would host another World Series game.  Just 5 years later the Cubs and White Sox would also meet in a World Series where neither venue would host a World Series game again. The Indians sent Bob Lemon to the hill in game 1, played 63 years ago today. He and Early Wynn had each won 23 games in the regular season. The Giants’ ace Johnny Antonelli who won 21 games would start game 2 with Sal Magley taking the ball in game 1. He had gone 14-6 leading up to this meeting. Reliever Hoyt Wilhelm won a dozen games with his knuckleball while Marv Grissom also won 10 from the bull pen. Nearly 53,000 fans squeezed into the aging ball park in Manhattan to see the first game while untold millions watched on TV or listened on radio. The Indians put up 2 in the first inning on a 2-run triple by Vic Wertz.  He would be heard from later.  The Giants matched them in the home third as Hank Thompson singled two runs home and the game remained at 2-2. In the 8th a defensive play was made which is still talked about today.  After Larry Doby and Al Rosen singled, manager Leo Durocher lifted starter Magley and signaled for reliever Don Liddle. He faced one man, Vic Wertz who hit an amazing jolt toward the 483-mark in distant center field-an absurd distance by today’s standards. Today it would be a “no doubter,” a 3-run home run.  But Willie Mays, the one man who had a chance of catching that blast caught it to the astonishment of Jack Brickhouse in the TV booth.  Brickhouse was and remains a Chicago legend but he had few if any chances to broadcast baseball from the Polo Grounds. At his side was the Giants’ regular broadcaster Russ Hodges who said “I don’t see how Willie did it but he’s been doing it all year.” That’s the call you hear any time that play is shown.  Owing to water damage to the master recording of the game, we will never know just what Indians’ radio broadcaster Jimmy Dudley said on national radio. Most of the game is in good shape but innings 7–9 have the damage. Supposedly Liddle, after giving up that wallop said “I got the guy out.” Through the 9th nobody scored leaving the game at 2-2 and forcing extra innings.  Fortunately the radio sound is clear in the 10th inning as Mutual’s Al Helfer called Dusty Rhodes’ pinch-hit 3-run home run that ended the game.  Compared to Wertz’s incredible jolt that was caught, Rhodes’ home run looked like a pop fly over the 258-foot mark and into the right field stands. With no travel day, the series that began on Wednesday, Sept. 29 was over by Saturday, Oct. 2.  78,000 thronged Cleveland Stadium for game 4 but by then the Indians were already vanquished.

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