I admire the 2011 World Series thus far, which is a nice way of saying I have yet to be fully engaged by it. After the slam-bang blowouts that ended the LCSes, it was predicted/feared that the St. Louis and Texas lineups would lay waste to each other’s starting pitching and that the games would be interminable. Instead, we’ve seen starters go deep, scores stay tight and everything take three hours anyway…but really, for postseason baseball, three hours is the new two hours.
Each game has been competitive and we know there will be at least three more. Vague temporary allegiances aside, I’m mostly rooting for a seven-game series, a treat we haven’t enjoyed in nine years. That’s the longest non-maximum dry spell baseball’s championship round has endured since the period between 1912 and 1924, and there were years in the middle of that aridity when the teams played best-of-nine sets and a couple of those went eight games (which was, at the time, the new six games).
If I were a Cardinals fan, I would have been sky-high for 17 innings, particularly from the pinch-hitting exploits of Allen Craig, whom I keep confusing with that new Fox animated show. Allen Gregory should only be as entertaining — or as clutch — as Allen Craig. But then, in the eighteenth inning, I would have been mortified by how my team’s commanding lead (one of those expressions announcers use that no regular person would ever think to say) was eviscerated and became a tie.
If I were a Rangers fan, I would be sky-high from the way my team eviscerated that so-called commanding lead: not with a Cruz missile but rather with a dash of Kinsler kibbitz and a touch of Andrus angst. Somebody on the MLB Network said the Rangers played “National League baseball” in the ninth inning of Game Two. We who follow the National League simply call it “baseball,” much the way one who is not Chinese assumes someone who is Chinese might decide to order out for “food”.
It’s good stuff, but I have to confess I’m just now warming to it. As much as I look forward to the World Series (assuming I’m not completely dreading it), it usually takes me a couple of games to get acclimated, like when I go to concerts or musicals and it takes me a half-hour to adjust to the notion that I’m watching famous people sing in front of me. And then, because the players always seem tense when they realize they’re in the World Series, I get antsy. Early in Game One, it was, all right, let’s go, c’mon…uh, I’m just gonna watch Modern Family and maybe South Park for a while, but I’ll definitely check in during commercials. By the end of the second game, however, I was getting a handle on the living and dying with teams whose figurative life and death doesn’t usually faze me. I went from admiring the potential 1-0 Cardinal win to admiring the 2-1 Ranger comeback.
And maybe by tonight, I’ll be engaged by the whole thing.
What isn’t admirable was several Cardinal veterans’ refusal to engage the media hordes after they let their potential commanding lead slip away. Albert Pujols made a bad play in the field and a worse play in the clubhouse by not sticking around to answer questions. He’s the most famous player out of the 50 still playing and he made what may have been the key error of the Series when he didn’t cut off Jon Jay’s relay throw on Elvis Andrus’s single. I saw Jay, a generally unknown second-year man, stand up and answer questions while Pujols, Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman and good old Yadier Molina made themselves noticeably unavailable.
Also hanging around and hanging in there was Jason Motte, the pitcher who was supposed to protect the 1-0 lead and couldn’t. Motte had more reason to hide or vamoose, but he stood up in the best tradition of Tim Teufel and accounted for himself. And he did so, according to ESPN’s Jim Caple, because he learned how to conduct himself from a Met (who I guess used to be a Cardinal).
He said a player has a responsibility to do so, a lesson he said Jason Isringhausen taught him.“He told me that if you can talk to everyone on a day you strike the side out then you have to come out and face the music on one of those other days,” Motte said. “It’s part of the business. It’s not fun talking about it but that’s the way it and that’s the way you have to handle it. You have to man up and that’s the way it is.”
See, when you learn from a Met, you learn how to stand tall and and explain crushing defeat. No doubt Izzy learned that particular skill at the knee of John Franco.
Motte’s only recently been anointed the St. Louis closer and there’s no telling how much closing he’ll be doing the rest of the Series (or how effective his closing will be), but he deserves a gold star for professionalism even if he didn’t get the save in Game Two. Compare his attitude, let alone his availability, to that of Pujols.
“I guess the way you guys are ripping me off, I guess I need to stay tomorrow in the clubhouse until you guys decide to talk to me,” Pujols said when asked whether he has a responsibility to talk to reporters. “My responsibility is to my God and my family, I don’t have any responsibility to anybody else. And I try to do the best I can to represent the game of baseball. I do that. Sometimes you make a mistake. Do I feel I made a mistake last night? I don’t think so. What can I do? I was waiting and nobody approached me. There is nothing I can do.”
Just as one error in the field doesn’t completely diminish Pujols the player, one night of suddenly not knowing how talking to reporters works after eleven big-league seasons (and two previous World Series) doesn’t make Albert a villain. We move too quickly to divide our public figures into “good” and “bad” instead of accepting that everybody has good days and bad days. I’ve always admired Pujols more than I’ve been engaged by him, even I always swoon at his I’m not the Man, Stan’s the Man humility. Still, you’re at the center of baseball’s singular event, you’re baseball’s singular star and you need (or so you claim) the Cardinals’ PR guy to tell you exactly what to do when one of your rare bad days is over? It’s a turnoff at a time when the sport can’t seem to get enough people to turn it on.
I’m sure it won’t cause Pujols any hardship in the free agent market. I’m sure another couple of botched cutoffs won’t cost him a nickel. He’s the greatest player this century has seen. But for one night, he was no Jason Motte.
Or Jason Isringhausen.