We're only one full round through baseball's post-season, and there's already a lot to talk about. All four League Division Series went the maximum five games, the Reds and Nationals blew late leads, and we may have seen the beginning of the fall of the Evil Empire. All of this in just over a week.
Perhaps the best stories of the playoffs, are teams that didn't get out of the first round. The Baltimore Orioles played five tough games against the New York Yankees, and took two of them to extra innings. The Oakland A's lost the first two games of their series at Detroit and battled back to tie the series at home, before losing the deciding fifth game at the hands of last year's MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander.
I was in Oakland for Game Five on Thursday, and what a great atmosphere. If the A's had won that game, I'd be writing about how maybe the win, the crowd of 36,000, and the appearance in the League Championship Series, could possibly be enough to get the team a new stadium. Even after the loss, about half of the crowd stayed another 20 minutes to salute the team. Those people were not there during the regular season, but it certainly proved the East Bay can support Major League Baseball.
We keep hearing that managers have shorter leashes with their pitchers during the post-season, but we haven't seen it. Tigers manager Jim Leyland stuck with closer Jose Valverde after the A's came back to win in the ninth in Game Four of that series. When Valverde blew the save against the Yankees Saturday (even though Detroit won in extra innings), Valverde was finally relieved from the closer duties, at least temporarily. The worst case was in Washington, when after leading 6-0 in Game Five, the Nationals lost to St. Louis 9-7. Closer Drew Storen not only gave up two runs to tie the game in the top of the ninth, but was allowed to stay in, and gave up two more. Davey Johnson will probably be National League Manager of the Year, but he wasn't in that game.
Believe me, I am not one to defend Alex Rodriguez, but I was surprised when Yankees manager Joe Girardi pinch hit for A-Rod in Game Three against Baltimore. It was even more shocking when A-Rod was benched in game five. Rodriguez is not getting hits, but neither is Robinson Cano, Nick Swisher, Curtis Granderson or Eric Chavez (who played 3B when Rodriguez sat out). Derek Jeter and Rusell Martin have really carried the offensive load for the Yanks, and now Jeter is hurt. Jeter broke his ankle trying to field a ground ball Saturday, and is done for the year.
Tangled up in blue: How come when an umpire makes a bad call, there are immediately cries for expanded instant replay? How about better umpires? Jeff Nelson was standing right there Sunday when Omar Infante was tagged out, but Nelson called the runner safe. Nelson later admitted he blew the call, but if the out call had been made, the inning would have been over. Detroit ended up scoring twice in that inning. But if you want to talk about replay, let's look at Game Five between the Orioles and the Yankees Saturday. Baltimore's Nate McLouth hit a ball down the right field line, that after several replays and a blown-up image, showed that maybe the ball ticked the foul pole, and therefore would have been a home run. The original call was foul, and the umpires did review the play, but they were only off the field for a total of one minute. That's counting the time to and from the replay room. They couldn't possibly have looked at the all the angles to make a decision. The video probably would have been ruled inconclusive, but the umps didn't even look! Why expand replay if that's going to happen?
Broadcasting bits: When an announcer mispronounces a name, or gets some information incorrect, they can get a pass for doing it once. If they do it again it's noteworthy. TBS studio host Matt Weiner called Yankees (and former Dodgers) pitcher Hiroki Kuroda, Hideki Kuroda. TBS game analyst Ron Darling referred to the ball park in Detroit as Tiger Stadium. The Tigers haven't played in Tiger Stadium since moving to Comerica Park in 2000... Darling made a big error when Jeter got hurt Saturday, saying “oh he's all right” after Jeter rolled on the ground. Darling expected Jeter to get right up, but the Yankee captain couldn't... Fox analyst Tim McCarver used the word “deplorable” to describe Jeter's injury. It's not like Jeff Gilooly came out and whacked him in the knee or anything. Sad maybe, unfortunate, but I don't know about deplorable... This seems to have been a debatable topic about superstition, but TBS play-by-play man Ernie Johnson did not mention that Kuroda had a perfect game through five innings Sunday. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but ultimately it didn't matter, a leadoff single in the sixth broke it up... Fox lead play-by-play guy Joe Buck did the Giants-Niners football game at Candlestick Park before rushing over to A T & T park Sunday for Game One of the National League Championship Series. McCarver did the pregame liveshot solo, but Buck was there in time for the first pitch. McCarver said that Buck “runs fast for a broadcaster”... For what it's worth, Fox carried the national anthem (Jose Feliciano) and the seventh-inning singing of God Bless America (Tony Bennett) Sunday. TBS has not done so during its post-season coverage.
Miscellany: The playoff teams with the two worst records both have leads in the LCS going into Monday. The Tigers and Cardinals were both 88-74 during the regular season. St. Louis was the second wild card in the National League. Detroit won the AL Central, but their record was not as good as wild card teams Texas or Baltimore... Yankees DH Raul Ibanez, who hit three home runs against Baltimore, including a game-tying and game-winning shot, was an original member of the Lancaster JetHawks, when the California League moved into the Antelope Valley in 1996.
Personal: Happy Birthday today to my cousin Andy. I just realized that one year from now will be the 25th anniversary of Kirk Gibson's World Series home run. It was hit on Andy's 30th birthday... I miss my Dad, who passed away 31 years ago yesterday.
Photo: A's fans salute their team after the Game Five loss to Detroit, while the Tigers celebrate on the field. Sorry if it's a little blurry, but I was there!!