The 5 best left fielders in Yankee history

8 04 2016

This continues a series on the best Yankees at different positions Today: left field.

Left field has been a place to visit more than a place to stay for the Yankees. I list the five best, but they won’t necessarily be the five you were thinking of. And the discussions of criteria and the outfielders who didn’t make the list may be more interesting than the five best (at least beyond number one).

This position could not be a sharper contrast between the Yankees and the Red Sox, who had Hall of Famers (Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice) defending the Green Monster from 1940 to 1986, each of them owning the position and playing more than 1,500 games in left (Williams and Yaz each topped 1,900).

The only Yankee Hall of Famer on this list actually played more at another position and will be a surprise to many here (he doesn’t even make either of the left-fielder lists I linked at the end of this post). But I don’t bar players from being on the top-5 list at multiple positions. Lots of other Yankee Hall of Famers played left field, but not long enough or well enough to make this list. More on them later.

1, Babe Ruth (really)

I was surprised to learn that Babe Ruth actually played 1,048 career games in left field (almost as many as the 1,132 games he played in right). He played 891 left-field games for the Yankees. Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t have complete breakdowns of his offensive performance by position.

He started 132 of his 152 games in 1921 in left, and he led the league that year in homers (59), RBI (168), runs (177), walks (145), on-base percentage (.512), slugging (,846), OPS (1.359) and total bases (457). His .378 batting average was third in the league. No Yankee left fielder ever had a better season.

In 1926, Ruth played 82 games in left field, 68 in right and two at first base. No need for all the numbers, but he led the American League in the same stats that year, too. In his epic 60-homer season of 1927, Ruth played more in right field than left, but still played 56 games in left.

I actually had this list completed and looked Ruth up to list first in the section of Hall of Famers who didn’t make the list, presuming he played a few games here. But when I noticed how many games he played, I had to figure out where he belonged. And he belongs at the top. Even though left field wasn’t his primary position, he played enough to nail down the top spot here. No Yankee left fielder ever played better.

2, Charlie Keller

Charlie Keller played left field for 874 games, scattered over 13 seasons, all with the Yankees. I almost didn’t give “King Kong” this slot because he played over 100 games in left only four seasons. But I favor peak performance over longevity, and Keller’s peak was strong and his longevity looks stronger on closer examination. After splitting time between left and right his first two seasons (including the first of five All-Star selections in 1940), Keller became the starter in 1941. He was the left-field starter except for missing the 1944 season and most of 1945 to military service until a slipped disc sidelined him after only 45 games in 1947. (He still made the All-Star team that year.) He never returned to his star form after back surgery. For an eight-year stretch, he was playing important time in left field for the Yankees, except when in the military. He’s one of only two Yankees to command the position that long.

Keller’s performance in those eight seasons was stellar: three 100-RBI seasons, three 100-run seasons and three 30-homer seasons, scattered over five seasons. He led the American League in walks in 1940 and ’43.

In four World Series (three of them as champions), he hit .306 with five homers and 18 RBI in 19 games.

3, Roy White

Roy White was the Yankees’ longest-serving left fielder by far, 1,521 games at the position. He played left field from 1966 to 1979, spending his whole career with the Yankees. Nine of those seasons, he played more than 100 games, including starting every game in left in 1973.

In the rankings by other bloggers at the end of this post, White ranks first in one and eighth in another, an indication of how difficult it is to rank the Yankees’ left fielders. I think third reflects his longevity as well as the consistent quality of his play.

His patience through some grim Yankee seasons was rewarded with championship seasons three of his final four years (World Series championships in 1977-78 and an A.L. championship in ’76). White played well in the post-season, particularly the 1978 World Series, when he hit .333 (8-for-24) with nine runs scored, a homer, four RBI and two stolen bases. If Bucky Dent hadn’t been so hot, White might have been the Series MVP.

White was good, but not great, with the bat and the glove and on the basepaths. I gave Keller the edge because he had more great seasons, but White had more good seasons. He never hit .300 for a full season, but four times hit in the .290s and had a .271 career average. He never hit more than 22 homers, but hit 10 or more in eight seasons and had 160 for his career. He was in double figures in stolen bases every full season he played, with a peak of 31 in 1976 and 233 for his career. He never reached 100 RBI in a season, but had nine seasons of 50 or more, peaking at 94 in 1970 (one of his two All-Star seasons). He led the league with 104 runs scored in 1976 (one of two 100-run seasons) and in walks with 99 in 1972. Never spectacular, but solid for more than a decade.

4, Hideki Matsui

As noted above, I generally favor peak performance over longevity, and Hideki Matsui was a better hitter than White, with four 100-RBI seasons and a high of 31 homers, three 100-run seasons and two .300 seasons. But White’s huge advantage on the basepaths and in longevity gave him the edge for No. 2. Matsui was a Yankee just seven years, to 15 for White, and started in left field only four of those years.

If his 2009 World Series MVP performance had come as the left fielder instead of the DH, I might have pushed Matsui up a notch, but he’ll have to settle for third place. Johnny Damon played left field, even in the three games in Philadelphia (Matsui pinch-hit in all three games).

5, Bob Meusel

Bob Meusel played left field more than any other position, 626 games for the Yankees. But he alternated between left and right, and never actually played 100 games in left in any single season. But he was a heck of a hitter, playing lots and regularly in left. In 1925, when he played 88 games in left, 44 in right and 27 at third base, Meusel led the American League with 33 homers and 134 RBI (one of five 100-RBI seasons). His batting average in 10 Yankee seasons was .311, and left field was his primary position seven of those seasons.

As you’ll see shortly, greater Yankees played in left field, but they didn’t play there as long or as well as Meusel, even though he wasn’t anchored in left.

Other Hall of Fame Yankee left fielders

In addition to The Babe, at least seven Hall of Famers played left field for the Yankees, but all are known better for playing at other positions and/or for other teams:

Dave Winfield played in left his first three seasons as a Yankee, 1981-3. He was No. 5 on this list until I learned how much Babe played in left. Winfield was an All-Star all three left-field seasons and topped 100 RBI in both full seasons (’81 was shortened by a strike). He also won two Gold Gloves. I could have moved Winfield ahead of Meusel based on playing much more in left all three seasons than Meusel played in any season. But Meusel played almost 300 more games in left and played better in the post-season. And Winfield’s best Yankee years came in right field.

I presumed Rickey Henderson would be in the top five and maybe even top the list. But I was surprised to see that he played only one full season in left for the Yankees. I was remembering incorrectly that his center field hitch was pretty short. But it was the full 1985 and ’86 seasons. And ’85 was easily Henderson’s best season as a Yankee.

Joe DiMaggio played more games in left field (64) than center (55) his rookie year, before becoming the Yankees’ regular center fielder.

Mickey Mantle ballMickey Mantle played left field mostly in 1965.

Earle Combs, another center fielder, played 215 games in left.

Yogi Berra played 148 games in left, 81 of them in 1961, when it was his primary position.

Enos Slaughter earned his Hall of Fame perch in his years with the St. Louis Cardinals (playing mostly right field). But late in his career, he played 100 games in left for the Yankees, spread across four seasons playing part-time.

By the way, I checked and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson and should-be Hall of Famer Roger Maris played left field for the A’s but never for the Yankees.

I’m going to guess that Willie Keeler appeared in left field sometime, though Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t break down his outfield appearances by position. The Hall of Fame lists right field as his primary position. The Yankees were the Highlanders then, and I’m focusing on actual Yankees here.

The rest

Two Yankees who belong in the Hall of Fame also played left field:

Also playing left field (almost 50 games) for the 1990s Yankees was Darryl Strawberry, a former National League home run leader who appeared headed for Cooperstown before cocaine addiction sidetracked his career.

I was thinking Johnny Damon might have a shot at the fifth spot on the list, but he played mostly center for the Yankees. His only full-time season in left for the Yankees was 2009, a good season, but not good enough to move him onto the list. I think Damon’s shot at Cooperstown rested on reaching 3,000 hits, but he retired at 2,769.

Brett Gardner could push his way onto this list in a few years. He’s been the Yankees’ primary left fielder for four seasons (plus 2013 in center) and his hitting is improving. He led the league with 49 steals in 2011, but he isn’t the hitter Meusel was.

I thought Lou Piniella might make the fifth spot on this list (he’s fifth on both of the lists linked at the end of this post). But as I did my research, I found that he never started 100 games in left field in a season.

Gene Woodling's autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling’s autograph on a ball belonging to my son Tom.

Gene Woodling started 100 or more games in left field four straight championship years for the Yankees (1950-53), but he never played more than 125 games for the Yankees, never hit 20 homers or drove in 70 runs. He hit .300 a couple times and led the league with a .429 on-base percentage in 1953. On longevity, he deserves consideration for the fifth spot, but he was never a full-time player. He was one of Casey Stengel’s platoon players.

David Justice played only 59 games in left for the Yankees.

Chad Curtis hit two homers in the 1998 World Series, but didn’t play left field long enough or well enough (except in that World Series) to push his way onto the list, even with my bias in favor of post-season play.

Chuck Knoblauch moved to left field after his defensive troubles at second base started.

Even Jose Canseco played four games in left for the Yankees. And a lot of Yankee left fielders played way more than that, but I’m not going to list them all here.

Other left-field traditions

As I noted at the top, the Red Sox had three straight Hall of Fame left fielders covering most of four-plus decades, except the breaks for Williams’ military service. Throw in Manny Ramirez and Mike Greenwell, and the Red Sox clearly have the best tradition in left field.

The St. Louis Cardinals (Joe Medwick, Stan Musial for 929 games, Lou Brock), Pittsburgh Pirates (Fred Clarke, Ralph Kiner, Willie Stargell) and Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins (Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush and 471 games of Harmon Killebrew) also had three Hall of Fame left fielders. The A’s have two (Henderson and Al Simmons). The Yankees’ left-field tradition might rank somewhere between fifth and seventh, if not lower.

Ranking criteria

I explained my criteria in the post on first basemen, so if this seems familiar, it’s because I cut and pasted that explanation here, then adapted it for left fielders.

If a player is in the Hall of Fame (Ruth) or belongs there (Howard and Raines), that carries considerable weight with me. If Howard had played left primarily or Raines had played for the Yankees in his prime, they would have made the list, probably second place.

I value both peak performance and longevity, but peak performance more. That’s why Ruth and Keller, who didn’t play as long in left as White, ranked ahead of him. Measures of peak performance, such as MVP awards and leading leagues in important stats, will move a person up my list. All the other left fielders together didn’t lead the league in important stats as Yankees as many times as Ruth did.

Few ballplayers actually matter in the broader culture beyond baseball, but Ruth did and that counted for him, too.

I rank players primarily on their time with the team, so Keller and White stand out not just for their strong careers, but because all their time was spent with the Yankees.

Time at the position is important, too. Winfield missed the list because he played only three seasons in left field. Look for him on my right field list.

Post-season play and championship contributions matter a lot to me. Winfield made one post-season for the Yankees and hit 1-for-22 in the 1981 World Series. George Steinbrenner’s “Mr. May” shot was cruel and unwarranted, but all the people on the list played well in the post-season and contributed to Yankee championships.

This factor didn’t play into any of these decisions, but if two players were dead even at a position for the Yankees, I would have moved the one with the better overall career ahead. For instance, if Winfield or Henderson had been tied with someone, their years with the Padres, Blue Jays, A’s, etc. would have pushed them ahead.

Special moments matter, too. Ruth had a few of those.

Your turn

Rankings of Yankees by position

Starting pitchers

Catchers

First base

Second base

Shortstop

Third base

Center field

Right field

Designated hitter

Relief pitcher

Manager

Other rankings of Yankee left fielders

Uncle Mike’s Musings

Christopher J151515

Source note

Unless noted otherwise, statistics cited here come from Baseball-Reference.com.

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A team of the best who played for Yankees and Royals

28 10 2014

Decades ago, the Kansas City A’s and New York Yankees made so many trades the A’s were derided as a Yankee farm team. The Yankees and Royals haven’t made as many trades, but still have shared a lot of the same players.

Since I usually blog here about the Yankees, but have been blogging about the Royals this month, I’ve compiled a team of the best players who played for both teams (most of them not involved in trades between the two teams).

Catcher: Don Slaught. Slaught barely missed the Royals’ world championship year. He caught 124 games for the 1984 division champions, but was traded to the Texas Rangers in a four-team deal that brought Jim Sundberg to Kansas City. After three years in Texas, Slaught was the starting catcher for the Yankees in 1988 and ’89, two fifth-place seasons.  This isn’t a strong position, but Slaught started for both teams. Fran Healy had a couple mediocre years as the Royals’ starter, but was just a sub for the Yankees.

First base. Steve Balboni was a feast-or-famine slugger for the Royals who had his best year in the Royals’ 1985 championship year, with 36 homers, and led the league in strikeouts that year with 166 (he had 146 hits). Known as “Bye Bye” Balboni in the Yankee farm system, he had no chance of winning the first base job away from Don Mattingly. Balboni became “Bonesy” in Kansas City, where his homers are remembered fondly, but not as fondly as the single that eventually became the tying run (Onix Concepcion pinch-ran) in Game Six of the 1985 World Series. Read the rest of this entry »





The Kansas City Royals’ amazing 9-game post-season winning streak

12 10 2014

Update: It’s an 11-game winning streak now. While I blogged about making it to the World Series, I won’t be updating this one further. But I’m glad no one has reason to think I jinxed the winning streak by writing about it.

 Time for another post on the Royals (maybe not the last of this post-season).

The Kansas City Royals are on an incredible nine-game, 29-year post-season winning streak. Let’s take a look at those games:

1985 World Series

Game Five

The Royals trailed 3-1 and Game 5 was supposed to be the Cardinals’ chance to celebrate their World Series championship on their home field. But this Royals team has also trailed 3-1 to the Toronto Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series. It was a scrappy team that didn’t give up when it fell behind.

Danny Jackson, a 23-year-old lefthander who won 14 games for the Royals, faced off against 35-year-old Cardinal veteran Bob Forsch, who would win 163 career games for the Cardinals, but only nine that year.

Each pitcher gave up a run in the first. That was the last run Jackson would give up, and the last full inning Forsch would pitch. An RBI single by Buddy Biancalana and a two-run triple by Willie Wilson chased Forsch in the second inning. Jackson scattered five hits and three walks in pitching a complete game for the 6-1 victory. The Royals got a chance to play again back home in Kansas City.

Game 6

Ah, Game Six.

This game should not be remembered for a bad call, though it had a couple of them, neither of which had a significant impact on the outcome of the game.

In the bottom of the 4th inning, Frank White got a one-out bunt single for the Royals. He then stole second, possibly on a busted hit-and-run play. The throw beat White easily, but Ozzie Smith tagged White high on his chest, after his foot was safely on the base. But White was called out. You can see it at about the 57-minute mark of the game video below. The replay clearly showed he was safe, and announcer Tim McCarver, a former Cardinal whose St. Louis favoritism always showed, noted casually that Smith had tagged White high, after his foot reached the bag. But Royals manager Dick Howser didn’t argue and TV showed only one replay. Pat Sheridan, who was at the plate, hit a groundball single to right field that almost certainly would have scored the speedy White, who stole 10 bases that year and 178 in his career (a guy who can bunt for a single can score from second on an outfield single). Tough luck. Bad calls are part of baseball. Play on.

Instead of being tied 1-1, the Royals trailed 1-0 when they came to bat in the bottom of the 9th inning. Charlie Leibrandt of the Royals (the hard-luck loser of Game Two, which I watched) matched zeroes for seven innings with the Cardinals’ Danny Cox, an 18-game winner. The Cardinals scratched out a run in the eighth on a single and a walk, followed by Brian Harper’s RBI single, pinch-hitting for Cox. Lefthander Ken Dayley pitched a scoreless eighth inning for the Cardinals.

The bottom of the ninth started innocently enough, with Jorge Orta hitting a ground ball to first baseman Jack Clark. Cardinals reliever Todd Worrell (more on him later) covered first base and the throw clearly beat Orta in a bang-bang play. But umpire Don Denkinger blew the call. Herzog, Worrell and Clark argued vehemently, but with no replay, they couldn’t change the call any more than Howser would have been able to change the fourth-inning call if he’d argued. The calls were examples of two of the most-blown calls in baseball: throw beats runner so he’s called out even though the tag was high and ball beats runner to the bag by an instant (or vice versa) and umpire misses it because it’s almost impossible to watch a ball hitting a glove and a foot hitting a bag at the same time when they are about eight feet apart.

A USA Today review of this year’s replays midway through the season showed that 318 calls had been reversed on review after being challenged by managers. So bad calls happened a lot before replay. Good teams played on and won games.

It’s also worth noting that, as bad calls go, this one was about as inconsequential as you can get on multiple accounts:

  • It was the lead-off hitter, rather than the potential third out. A potential third out means you should have gotten out of the inning. Whether the lead-off hitter gets on or out, you still need to get more outs to end the game.
  • The winning run scored with one out, so if you replay the inning without Orta’s bogus single, the Royals have still scored the tying run, with Lonnie Smith coming up. He hit .333 in the series.
  • The bad call was at first base, rather than at home plate, where it costs you a run, or at second base (as the bad call on White was), where it costs you a runner in scoring position. When you’re screwed on a bad call at first base, you have to give up an extra-base hit, a huge error or multiple little things (singles, walks, hit batters, errors, wild pitches, sacrifices, etc.) for the bad call to result in a run. And by the time those other things happen, the bad call is never the main reason the run scored.

And those little things that happened after the bad call were an amazing, exhilarating (for a Royals fan or neutral baseball fan) mix of good and bad plays by the Royals’ role players. The Royals had a stellar, if young, pitching staff that year, but no pitchers hit in the inning. Their offensive superstar, having one of his best seasons, was George Brett, who didn’t come to bat in the ninth inning. White, Smith and Wilson were all All-Stars in multiple seasons and none of them hit in the ninth either. Hal McRae was another multi-year All-Star, and perhaps the best designated hitter of the 1970s and ’80s, and he would come to the plate, but he drew an intentional walk, playing a minimal role. The only All-Star who would play an important role in the Royals’ ninth-inning comeback was a defensive star, Jim Sundberg, a six-time Gold Glover and three-time All-Star who hit only .245 for the 1985 Royals. And he botched his assignment in the ninth. As did some Cardinals All-Stars. Both managers tried different maneuvers, some that worked, some that didn’t.

Let’s go through that inning, play by scrappy play:

Orta was not scheduled to lead off the ninth. Sheridan, who platooned in right field with Darryl Motley, was the scheduled hitter. Sheridan, who hit lefthanded, had started against the righthanded Cox. So Howser sent the righthanded Motley in to hit against Dayley. But Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog countered with Worrell, a righthanded rookie.

The Cardinals had no single closer that year. Jeff Lahti saved 19 games and had an ERA under 2.00. He had already saved Game Two and warmed up in the ninth inning of Game Six, but never came in. Dayley had 11 saves and a 2.76 ERA and two saves against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series. Herzog had become enamored with Worrell, a late-August call-up who would still be eligible for (and win) Rookie of the Year in 1986. Worrell saved five games in September of 1985 and had saved Game One and pitched briefly in Game Five. So Herzog brought him in with an opportunity to be on the mound when the Cardinals won the World Series. Howser countered with Orta, a left-handed batter who had platooned at designated hitter with veteran McRae for much of the year. Orta got his only hit of the series on the bad call.

The next batter, Steve Balboni, had led the Royals with 36 homers, but he was also a likely strikeout candidate, leading the American League with 166 strikeouts. Worrell got Bonesy to loft a high pop foul over by the Royals’ dugout. Clark should have caught the ball, but misjudged it, then was distracted by Porter, who also came over to see if he had a play. The ball bounced harmlessly on the top step of the Royals’ dugout.

Both the Denkinger and Clark mistakes gave the Royals extra chances, but the Clark mistake, which was not scored an error, was more costly. Denkinger’s mistake put the potential tying run on first base. When Balboni used his second chance to send a ground-ball single to left, Clark’s error allowed the potential tying run to move into scoring position and put the winning run at first. Instead of bases empty and two outs, the two mistakes combined left the Royals with no outs and runners at first and second. Backup shortstop Onix Concepcion pinch-ran for Bonesy.

McRae was on deck to pinch-hit for Sundberg, but Howser decided he wanted a bunt to advance the runners. McRae had only two sacrifice bunts all season. Sundberg had only four. Howser sent Sundberg up to bunt. I’m not a big fan of the sacrifice bunt. Outs are precious and I prefer to make the defense work for them. My preference would have been to take three shots at getting the tying run home from second. But Howser stayed with the bunt, even with two strikes. Sundberg laid down the bunt, but Worrell fired to third to force Orta. This time he was correctly called out.

Sundberg was not a fast runner. He had been thrown out stealing on his only two attempts in 1985 (no doubt on busted hit-and-run plays). For his career, he had 20 stolen bases and 621 runs in 16 seasons, less than 40 runs a year (and 38, in fact, in 1985). The Royals’ backup catcher, John Wathan, had three years earlier set the single-season stolen-base record for catchers, with 36, a record that still stands. I fully expected Howser to send Duke in to pinch run, but he didn’t. Yet.

The next scheduled batter was shortstop Biancalana, whose name and weak hitting had been mocked by David Letterman in his Buddy Biancalana Hit Counter (a take-off on the hit counters used to track Pete Rose’s chase of Ty Cobb’s all-time hit record). Biancalana, who split time with Concepcion during the season, reached the peak of his career in the 1985, getting most of the time at shortstop in the post-season, with 43 plate appearances to only one for Concepcion. His .278 World Series batting average was nothing special, but it was 90 points higher than his regular-season average.

Even with his meager batting average, Biancalana had only five sacrifice bunts during the 1985 season and only 15 in his major-league career. I don’t think Howser would have used him even for a squeeze play if Sundberg’s bunt had worked. Which makes the bunt even more puzzling: If it had succeeded, first base would have been open for the Cardinals to walk Hal McRae (maybe Howser would have pinch-hit someone else).

But McRae came up with the tying run on second, with 1,000-plus career RBI, 70 in a platoon role in 1985 and an RBI crown just three years earlier. From 1976 to 1985, baseball followed a ridiculous practice of alternating years with and without the DH in the World Series. Pitchers hit in the odd years, so McRae had come to the plate only twice in the World Series, grounding out with the bases loaded in Game Four and being hit by a pitch in Game One. As a Royals fan, I was ready for him to jump on the opportunity and bring Concepcion home.

But Porter and Worrell apparently got crossed up on a pitch. The ball got away from Porter and the runners advanced, giving Kansas City the same result as they had sought with Sundberg’s bunt: runners at second and third, one out. The umpire’s mistake had just put the potential tying run on first base. Porter’s passed ball put the winning run in scoring position and advanced the tying run to third. Again, a much bigger part of the inning than the bad call.

Herzog chose to walk McRae intentionally, which set up a possible series-clinching double play. McRae’s run wouldn’t matter, though loading the bases raised the risk of walking in the tying run. Still, Herzog preferred to take his chances with the next pinch-hitter.

The next scheduled hitter was Royals closer Dan Quisenberry, who had relieved in the eighth inning, after Leibrandt gave up the Cardinals’ only run. Dane Iorg came to the plate as the Royals’ fourth pinch-hitter of the inning, including Motley, who didn’t actually hit.

And now Wathan went in to pinch-run, but for McRae, instead of Sundberg. If the thinking in using Wathan to run for McRae was because he could break up the double play, that certainly overlooked McRae’s famous 1977 slide into Willie Randolph in a Yankees-Royals post-season showdown. But this McRae was eight years older, and maybe Howser thought Wathan could get down to second base faster. Fine, run for McRae. Lynn Jones and Greg Pryor also were available to pinch-run, both undoubtedly faster than Sundberg. Jones had a triple and a double in his three World Series at-bats and undoubtedly would have hit if Howser needed another pinch-hitter. Howser left his catcher at second base with the potential winning run.

At the plate, Iorg was familiar to the Cardinals. He had played for the Cardinals from 1977 until being sold to the Royals in May 1984. He’d never played more than 105 games in a season and never had more than 80 hits in a season. But he was a respected role player. He’d hit 9 for 17 in five games of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals.

Iorg wasn’t a great pinch hitter, but he pinch-hit a lot, 69 hits in 282 career pinch-hit at-bats. In 1985, he was only 4 for 27 as a pinch-hitter for the Royals, a worse batting average than Biancalana, the guy he probably hit for most often, since pitchers never hit then in the American League. But he’d hit respectably as a spare outfielder, with a couple games each at DH and first base. With a .255 average, 60 hits and 30 RBI for the year, he was the logical pinch-hitter against a righthander.

Iorg won a special place in Royal lore forever with his single to rightfield against Worrell. Concepcion raced home easily with the tying run and third-base coach Mike Ferraro waved Sundberg home, too. Andy Van Slyke had a gun in right, and I thought he’d nail Sundberg at the plate. But he got a good jump from second, chugged home hard and slid home head-first, ahead of Porter’s tag.

In just five plate appearances, 11 Royals were scheduled to hit, announced as pinch-hitters, actually hit or pinch-ran in the ninth inning. The bad call was not as important to the outcome of the inning as the two legitimate singles Worrell gave up, the pop foul Clark misplayed or Porter’s passed ball. But the Cardinals and their fans whined loud and long about the call, exaggerating it in baseball legend way beyond its importance to the outcome of the game or the series.

The call most certainly didn’t cost the Cardinals the World Series. However big the bad call was to Game Six, the Cardinals had a chance to come back. The Big Red Machine was devastated by a Game Six loss a decade earlier, when Bernie Carbo’s three-run pinch-hit homer tied the game for the Boston Red Sox and Carlton Fisk’s extra-inning homer stayed fair to win it. And the Reds regrouped to win the next night.

Watch the ninth inning here:

Watch all of Game Six here:

Game Seven

The Cardinals were set up perfectly for Game Seven. Herzog had his choice of 21-game winners. John Tudor had held the Royals to one run in Game One and shut them out in Game Four. Tudor was 21-8 in the regular season, with a 1.93 ERA and a league-high 10 shutouts. He’d have won the Cy Young Award, if not for the historic season Dwight Gooden had for the Mets. Joaquín Andújar was 21-12 in the regular season, his second consecutive 20-win season, but had not been effective in the post-season. He had lost to the Royals’ Bret Saberhagen in Game Three. Though Tudor would be pitching on short rest, Herzog went with his ace, who was on a roll.

Game Seven should have been, and appeared likely to be, a pitching duel for the ages. Saberhagen also was a 20-game winner and would win the A.L. Cy Young Award (Ron Guidry probably should have won, but Sabes had a great year and was the exciting 21-year-old breakthrough star). Saberhagen had given up just one run on six hits and a walk in the Royals’ Game Three win in St. Louis, getting the Royals back into the series after two losses in Kansas City. His wife gave birth to their first child, a son named Drew, the night of Game Six.

The umpires’ clockwise World Series rotation moved Denkinger behind home plate.

Through the first inning and a half, both pitchers looked sharp, Tudor just giving up a single to Brett, Saberhagen giving up a single to Clark. Balboni walked in the bottom of the second. Then Motley, whose only involvement in Game Six was to be announced as a pinch-hitter, blasted a homer to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.

In the third inning, Tudor began to unravel. He walked Smith, gave up another single to Brett, then gave up a double steal. After Frank White walked, the bases were loaded. Then Tudor walked Sundberg to give up the third run. In the regular season, Herzog might have given Tudor time to work through his wildness, but with Saberhagen looking dominant, he had to use a quick hook. He brought in Bill Campbell, and Tudor took his frustration out on an electric fan in the clubhouse, cutting his finger. Campbell gave up a single to Balboni and the Royals led 5-0. Biancalana got the only intentional walk of his career, bringing up Saberhagen with the bases loaded and two outs. Sabes struck out swinging, about the only thing that went wrong for the Royals.

Saberhagen put two more zeroes up on the scoreboard and Lahti came in to replace Campbell after Sundberg singled leading off the fifth. After singles to Balboni and Motley, the Royals led 6-0 and Saberhagen was batting. He tried to advance the runners with a bunt, but Clark threw to Ozzie Smith to force out Motley. Lonnie Smith followed with a double, scoring Balboni and Saberhagen. Then Wilson drove Smith home and the Royals led 9-0.

Ricky Horton replaced Lahti and gave up a single to Brett, his fourth hit of the game already. After Horton threw two balls to White, Herzog turned to Andújar. I was puzzled by the move at the time, but I guess he thought he couldn’t keep burning through his bullpen in the fifth inning. He needed his best remaining pitcher, someone to stop the bleeding for a few innings, just in case the Cardinals could mount some sort of offense against Saberhagen.

It didn’t quite work out that way. After fouling off several Andújar pitches, White singled home a run. The Royals led 10-0. If it were a softball game, they would have won by the 10-run rule. But the Cardinals had to keep playing.

Denkinger called ball three on a pitch that was clearly inside, with Sundberg checking his swing. Andújar angrily charged toward the umpire to protest. Herzog charged out of the dugout to take the lead in the argument, while teammates restrained Andújar. Pretty quickly, Herzog turned the argument to the night before. He had seen enough and dropped f-bombs in an obvious intentional move to get thrown out of the game. Even after leaving the field, Herzog returned to continue the argument. Surprisingly, Andújar was not ejected for his initial reaction to the call.

When order was finally restored, Andújar threw ball four, also inside, and again immediately reacted angrily. His Wikipedia entry says Denkinger “misread a gesture by Andújar” to Porter. But that’s BS. The video shows Andújar reacting immediately to the call, the same way he did after ball three. He was furious, perhaps more at Herzog than Denkinger, and didn’t have any intention of sticking around any longer in this blowout. Teammates and coaches restrained him and it took about three of them to pull him off the field.

Forsch came in to pitch, and his wild pitch allowed Brett to score the 11th run. Finally Forsch and Dayley shut down the Royals’ offense, but the Cardinals could muster only five singles off Saberhagen. Van Slyke was the only Cardinal to reach second base, when he and Terry Pendleton singled back-to-back in the seventh.

With two out and an 11-0 lead in the ninth, Brett came over to the mound to talk to his pitcher. He wasn’t talking strategy or trying to settle the young pitcher down. He instructed Sabes to come his way after the final out. Brett wanted to be the first to embrace the winning pitcher. And he was. The Kansas City Times front page with that photo hangs in my office wall this month, until the Royals’ season ends.

You gotta love it

Here’s a short video of Saberhagen’s pitching and the celebration:

Watch all of Game Seven here (Jim Sundberg’s at-bat in the fifth inning starts at the 1:37:55 mark):

1986-2013

The 29 years between post-season games were mostly miserable for Royals fans. Saberhagen had another Cy Young season in 1989 and Brett won another batting title in 1990. The Royals were good and still exciting in the Bo Jackson years, but then wasted good years by Kevin Appier and Mike Sweeney. David Cone, Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltrán and Zack Greinke teased Royals fans with their talent before moving to better teams. Wathan and McRae (and a lot of others) took their turns as managers, without success. McRae’s son, Brian, played five years for the Royals.

Baseball expanded the playoffs, from two teams in each league to four and then five. But the Royals were never good enough to make the cut. Twenty-eight seasons passed without a post-season game. Then came …

2014

OK, I won’t go into as much detail on the 2014 games, because anyone who’s made it this far has fresh memories of all the games. Just a quick comment on each:

Wild-card game

I feared I would bitterly blame Ned Yost for losing the one-game wild-card playoff with the A’s for wasting too many outs on bunts (when his base runners were perfectly capable of stealing their way into scoring position). But the Royals prevailed. My oldest son, Mike, flew down from the Twin Cities to watch the game in person. My youngest son, Tom, wrote a guest post on what it meant to finally watch the Royals play and win a post-season game.

The A’s led this game 2-1 after one inning and the Royals came back to take the lead. The A’s led 7-3 after six innings and the Royals came back with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie. The A’s led 8-7 after the top of the 12th. And the Royals got two runs in the bottom of the 12th to win, with a Salvador Pérez base hit bringing home the winner.

I wonder how many teams have come from behind three different times in a post-season, including in the ninth and extra innings. As incredible as this post-season run has been, that might have been the best game. Mike says it’s the best game he’s ever attended, and I took him to a lot of good ones.

For Kansas City fans, which my sons are (I’m a Chiefs fan and cheer for the Royals if they’re not playing the Yankees), this was the first post-season win in any pro sport since 1994.

Angels series

Game one

Because the Royals are the wild-card team, both of their American League playoff series this year have started on the road. Game One of the Division Series in Anaheim was a well-pitched game, with starters Jason Vargas of the Royals and Jered Weaver of the Angels each giving up a run in the third and fifth innings and the bullpens pitching scoreless ball until Mike Moustakas, batting ninth in the Royals’ lineup, started his incredible post-season run with his 11th-inning homer.

Game Two

Starters Matt Shoemaker of the Angels and Yordano Ventura of the Royals were even better in this game, each giving up just one run. Game Two also went to extra innings, tied 1-1. Eric Hosmer delivered another extra-inning homer, following a Lorenzo Cain single. Pérez continued his extra-inning success with an RBI single and the Royals won, 4-1.

Game Three

This game was, on a smaller scale and with no ejections, a counterpart to Game Seven in 1985: an easy win following a nail-biter. The Royals led Game Three 3-1 after one inning, 5-1 after three and 7-2 after four. They cruised to an easy 8-3 win in front of the home fans. Hosmer and Moustakas homered again and Alex Gordon had a three-run double. Cain made back-to-back amazing catches.

2104 A.L. Championship Series

Game One

OK, it was back to extra innings: Both starters, James Shields for the Royals and Chris Tillman for the Orioles, were ineffective and neither made it to the sixth inning. The Royals blew a 4-0 lead and a 5-1 lead. But again the bullpens were strong, each pitching scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings to go to the 10th with a 5-5 tie.

Gordon opened the 10th with a homer, the third different Royal to homer in extra innings this post-season. After a walk to Perez, Moustakas added his second extra-inning homer. Closer Greg Holland, who’s been stellar this post-season, finally allowed a run, but still nailed down an 8-6 win. (Like Saberhagen in 1985, Holland and Cain have welcomed new babies during the 2014 post-season.)

Game Two

The Game Two win took only nine innings, but it took the full nine. The teams were tied 4-4 going into the ninth. Moustakas had homered in the fourth, so I was miffed that Yost had him bunting after Omar Infante led off with a single (Terrance Gore pinch-ran; as in 1985, pinch-runners have played a role for the Royals). Moustakas successfully advanced the runner, though. Then Alcides Escobar doubled Gore home. Lorenzo Cain, who’s made brilliant plays in the outfield throughout the playoffs, added an RBI single. Holland nailed down the win and the Royals go home with a 2-0 lead in the series.

Tom has made it to both Baltimore games. Tom, Mike and their brother, Joe, and I have been texting like crazy during this incredible run (just the last six games; none of us had mobile phones in 1985, of course).

What’s next?

Of course, the Blue Jays and Cardinals each had two-game leads in 1985, so any Royals fan knows it’s not over. But I like the Royals’ chances. This scrappy team reminds me of the 1985 Royals. Each had lots of heroes, rather than just riding the back of a dominant player. And, whatever happens, this nine-game winning streak has been a delight: four extra-inning wins, two ninth-inning wins and a ton of memories for two generations of deserving fans.

Source note: Statistics and some game details for this post came from Baseball-Reference.com.





Kevin Youkilis joins a long line of Red Sox heroes who’ve become Yankees

12 02 2013

Youk!

Yes, if pitchers and catchers have reported, it won’t be long before we’ll see Kevin Youkilis in pinstripes and Yankee fans will be cheering (again) this year for an old Red Sox fan favorite. Youk signed a one-year deal to play for the Yankees, probably playing third base while Alex Rodriguez rehabs from surgery (and longer, if the Yankees can unload A-Rod or get out of his contract).

It will be difficult for Red Sox fans to see Youkilis in pinstripes, and no doubt the cheers at Fenway will really be “Booo!” and not “Youk!” now. But Red Sox fans have become used to seeing old favorites playing for the Yankees (and vice versa).

In baseball’s most storied rivalry, lots of players, including some all-time greats, have gone over to the Dark Side, whichever side you consider to be dark. You probably could find similar connections between any pair of longtime teams, but the players who have played on both sides of this rivalry stand out somehow.

You could put together a pretty good team of players who’ve worked both sides of the rivalry, so I have. Read the rest of this entry »





Replay won’t correct incompetent umpiring

31 10 2009

Umpires make horrible calls in the World Series, just like they do in the regular season. And champions keep on playing and win their championships.

Thursday’s World Series game included two bad calls at first base. And the umpiring didn’t affect the outcome of the game at all. The Yankees just kept taking care of business. They didn’t need the extra runs they might have scored in the seventh inning. And Mariano Rivera would have gotten another out if the umpires hadn’t helped him in the eighth.

The most famous bad World Series call that I can remember is Don Denkinger’s blown call in Game 6 of the 1985 World Series, calling Jorge Orta of the Kansas City Royals (back when they were a perennial contender) safe at first leading off the ninth inning. St. Louis Cardinals fans lament that call decades later and still think they lost the 1985 World Series because of that call. Read the rest of this entry »