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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Pitcher Perfect Postseason

If there ever were a question about the shadow of the Steroid Era of baseball hovering over the game, this postseason has offered compelling evidence that juiced batters are done and hurlers are the heroes of October. This postseason have seemingly offered us a stellar pitching performance (or two) nightly. Major League Baseball, these last few weeks, looks like the game I grew up with: one in which the pitchers decided the games and the man with the stick capable of cracking the armor of the man on the mound emerged as a gamebreaker.

So far, there have been seven shutouts in the postseason. Three of those were 1-0 final scores. Beyond stat sheet standouts, what these “A-game” performances on the mound have given postseason baseball is what compels the casual sports fan to watch the games: suspense and drama.

American League Division Series – Game 2: Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics

Former MVP and Cy Young Award winner Justin Verlander tossed seven scoreless innings, but the star of the night was rookie Sony Gray of the A’s. Gray threw eight scoreless innings on 111 pitches, giving his team the opportunity to win it with a walk off in the 9th inning. A’s closer Grant Balfour got the win, but Gray got the glory.

Tigers    0
A’s          1
FINAL – Series tied 1-1

It was a Sonny night in Oakland. 1
American League Division Series – Game 5: Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics
After dodging multiple bullets and delivering clutch hits in Game 4, the Tigers sent the series back to Oakland for a fifth and final game. The stage was set for Verlander-Gray Part II. Like most sequels, it was worth seeing, but couldn’t match up to the original. Sonny Gray was peppered and removed after five innings after giving up three runs. Justin Verlander was magnificent again, hanging eight zeroes on the scoreboard before closing pitcher Joaquin Benoit stretched the Tigers over the finish line in the 9th inning. 

Tigers    3
A’s          0
FINAL – Tigers win the series 3 games to 2.

The master schooled the rook in the end. 2
American League Championship Series – Game 1: Detroit Tigers at Boston Red Sox

Anibal Sanchez got dirty in his first postseason start, getting hammered for six runs, including three homers, and being removed in the fifth inning of Game 3 of the ALDS. Sanchez redeemed himself, tossing six hitless, scoreless innings. Detroit’s pitching staff would combine to toss 8-1/3 scoreless innings before losing the combined no-hitter in the bottom of the 9th inning. Regardless, the Red Sox, the best hitting team in baseball, may as well have had rubber hoses instead of bats, being shut out at home in Game 1.

Tigers    1
Red Sox 0

National League Championship Series – Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals

After outlasting the Dodgers the night before in a 13 inning marathon, 3-2, the Cardinals had to get up and do it all over again just 15 hours later. Probable National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers took the mound against rookie wunderkind Michael Wacha. Kershaw was excellent, striking out five batters and giving up one run and two hits in six innings. Wacha was bulletproof, carrying a shutout into the seventh inning before the Cardinals’ bullpen finished the job. The Dodgers only gave up four runs in 22 innings of play; the Cardinals gave up less.

Dodgers   0
Cardinals 1
FINAL – Cardinals lead the series 2 games to none.

Wacha vs Kershaw? Wacha, Wacha, Wacha! 4

National League Championship Series – Game 2: Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals
With the season effectively hanging in the balance, rookie Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers turned in the finest performance at the most critical time in his fledgling career. Ryu pitched four hitless innings to start the game and finished giving up only three hits in seven scoreless innings. They needed the stellar effort as Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright also lasted seven innings and only surrendered two runs. The Dodgers’ pen finished the job to breathe life back into the Dodgers in this series.

Cardinals 0
Dodgers   3
FINAL – Cardinals lead the series 2 games to 1.

Ryu had no room for error, so he didn't make any. 3
American League Championship Series – Game 3: Boston Red Sox at Detroit Tigers

Not to be outdone by their National League counterparts, the Red Sox and Tigers served up another classic pitcher’s duel. Justin Verlander put up ridiculous numbers again but did give up his first earned run in about a month, serving up a tater to Mike Napoli of the Red Sox in the 7th inning. Verlander went eight innings only surrendering a single run to Boston.

Red Sox starter John Lackey, who had some hard knocks in the postseason while with the Los Angeles Angels, continued his October Redemption Tour with the Red Sox. He took a shutout into the seventh inning before the relievers finished the job. The Sox shut out the Tigers and regained the home field advantage in the series.

Red Sox 1
Tigers    0

John Lackey's ex-wife, Krista Clark...was probably not in the building to see that masterpiece. 5
Pitching Wins Championships
The adage that great pitching trumps great hitting has been illustrated repeatedly in this postseason. The aforementioned were just the highlights. Twelve playoff games had five or fewer total runs scored. Only one League Championship Series game has had more than five total runs scored. The team with the ball has controlled its fate in the playoffs, the way it should be.

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