By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Nothing beats baseball.
It may lack the flash of some other sports, and it’ll always be considered “boring” by far too many people, but there is simply nothing else in sports quite like the slow-churning build of excruciating tension that takes place in nearly every postseason game. It’s like a 200-ton locomotive rolling from a dead stop to rumbling down the tracks, shaking and rattling as if it may go careening off the track at any given moment.
Now if you take that intensity and add in two franchises with historic title droughts playing in a Game 7 that goes to extra innings, you’ve got yourself one of the most compelling pieces of sports theater in history.
Sadly, though, it’s over, and with it goes the baseball season. That slow build will begin again in spring training and will surely lead us to another captivating October. But it likely won’t compare to what just took place.
So, before moving on to the long, cold, baseball-free winter, let’s look back at the World Series that was by holding our own little awards ceremony. With a sufficient amount of ado already having transpired, here we go.
The “More Is Less” Award for over-managing goes to … Joe Maddon!
The cool cat manager of the Cubbies saw the national media fawning over Cleveland manager Terry Francona for his innovative and bold use of Andrew Miller and the rest of the bullpen throughout the playoffs. So Maddon responded by trying to prove to the world that he is the real innovator. He is, after all, the one who invites penguins and mariachi bands and freaking magicians who normally work children’s birthday parties and big snakes into his clubhouse, and he’s the one who once said, “What an interesting, wonderful game to stay solvent with,” while also boasting that “we went National League” in a 2013 postseason win against the Red Sox which was won by a man hitting a home run.
Clearly, the world needed to better respect his genius.
So, Joe copied off Tito’s paper and used Aroldis Chapman to get the final eight outs of Game 5. It was the right move. But two days later, after Chapman needed to throw 42 pitches in that Game 5, Maddon called upon Chapman in Game 6, when the score was 7-2. And when that score stretched to 9-2, he still sent Chapman back out to the mound.
Not surprisingly, Chapman was fatigued in Game 7 and he got rocked. He gave up two runs on a game-tying home run to Rajai Davis, who only hit 12 homers all year. It was ugly. But it wasn’t Maddon’s only instance of handling his lineup card with all the delicacy of Edward Scissorhands.
He pulled Kyle Hendricks when the ace was at just 63 pitches. He inserted Jon Lester with a runner on base even though he said he wouldn’t be doing that. For that matter, he had Jon Lester warming up in the bullpen for about an hour. He also inserted a cold David Ross off the bench, and the veteran catcher immediately made a throwing error that allowed two runs to cross the plate. And he called for a two-strike bunt which, shockingly, led to a foul tip for strike three.
Maddon wanted to get his fingerprints all over this victory. Instead he ended up trying to turn a paint-by-numbers situation into a Rembrandt. So take this award, Joe, and remember: Less is more.
The Insane Degree Of Difficulty Award goes to … Kyle Schwarber!
Hitting big league pitchers is, as you know, quite difficult. Hitting in October, under the pressure of the postseason and with the added dread of 100-plus years of Cubs failures hanging above your head, presents its own level of challenges. Now factor in Kyle Schwarber not being able to play baseball all year long and getting just eight plate appearances over two games in the Arizona Fall League before being thrust into the World Series, and you’ve got yourself a young man who was not really put in a position where success would be likely.
And then he ended up hitting .412.
That included a 3-for-5 showing in Game 7, as his single to lead off the 10th became what proved to be the winning run in pinch runner Albert Almora.
Schwarber racked up seven hits in 17 at-bats, and even with his recovering knee, he stole a base and very nearly beat out the back end of a would-be double play.
The guy was a monster, and by being such an impact player, he completely flipped the script on “home-field advantage” and made an indelible mark on this historic series.
The “Most Random Damn Thing” Award goes to … Michael Martinez!
Game 7. World Series. Bottom of the 10th inning. Tying run on first. Winning run at the plate in … Michael Martinez? It was quite the random occurrence, and as a result the fourth postseason at-bat in the career of the 34-year-old .197 hitter is now cemented in history.
Terry Francona inserted Martinez when Cleveland wanted an extra infielder with a runner on third and one out in the ninth. But if he had known that Maddon was going to foolishly tell Baez to bunt with two strikes, maybe Francona would have just let it ride and kept Coco Crisp in the game.
Alas, baseball happened. And now Michael Martinez (who had been 0-for-3 with three strikeouts in his postseason career) is forever a part of history. Baseball.
The “Human Element” Award goes to … these damn umpires!
Ken Rosenthal told a truly heartbreaking story about John Hirschbeck during the game. It was gut-wrenching. We all felt terrible for the guy … and then he blew a plainly obvious call in Game 7 of the World Series.
Fortunately, replay review exists to correct his error, but how Hirschbeck ruled Javier Baez’s drop to have been on the transfer defies any and all logic.
But Hirschbeck wasn’t the only one to fail to show up in the World Series. Game 7’s home plate umpire Sam Holbrook missed some calls that had huge impacts on the game. He called both pitches 5 and 6 as balls, thus ending a streak of seven straight retired by Hendricks — and thus ending Hendricks’ night.
Likewise, he called pitches three and nine below as balls to Kris Bryant. He ended up scoring a huge run (driven in by Anthony Rizzo in the fifth inning) to push the Chicago lead to 5-1.
At the time, it looked like just a meaningless insurance run. But, obviously with the way things turned out, it was a rather crucial run.
Holbrook was wild all night. Just look at how much green shows up inside the strike zone.
This all came a night after Joe West improvised the strike zone all night in an apparent attempt to generate a Dez Bryant “what is a catch?” level type of hysteria in the true meaning of balls and strikes in Game 6.
So congrats, umpiring crew. You’re the best of the best but you still stink out loud.
The “Make America Happy Again” Award goes to … Aroldis Chapman!
A common refrain heard around this great nation of ours from people supporting a Cubs curse-breaker ever since Chicago acquired Chapman is, “Man, if the Cubs make history, I hope that guy is not on the mound to do it.” Turns out, ol’ Roldy isn’t necessarily a great human.
Well, Chapman managed to give these people the best of both worlds. He blew the save, the Cubs still won, and it was not Chapman who recorded the final out. So, that was nice of him.
The Michael Bluth “… him?” Award goes to … Ben Zobrist!
For the second straight year, we all have to accept the fact that Ben Zobrist is just a very significant baseball player. Ben Zobrist, World Series MVP. Ben Zobrist, two-time world champion.
The “M. Night Shyamalan” Award for greatest plot twist goes to … Andrew Miller!
It was bound to happen at some point. Andrew Miller had been too dominant for too long in this postseason, and eventually, somebody had to hit him.
He entered Game 7 having allowed just one run in 17 innings of work. He had allowed eight hits and four walks while striking out twenty-nine batters. he had recorded five holds, one save, and two wins. He was unbelievable.
And then … single … double play … walk (thanks to Holbrook) … single … two more outs … solo home run.
He was the single most reliable pitcher in baseball this postseason. Until Game 7 of the World Series. What a twist.
The Randy Moss “Forgotten Greatness” Award goes to … Francisco Lindor
Much like history was supposed to remember the 2007 Patriots for Tom Brady’s game-winning touchdown pass to Randy Moss with 2:42 left in Super Bowl XLII, Francisco Lindor won’t ever get his proper due for making an absolutely spectacular play to end the Cubs’ threat in the ninth.
I mean, watch this play (and listen to the great call from Cleveland’s radio broadcast):
[mlbvideo id=”1211067683″ width=”560″ height=”315″ /]
That play was outstanding. But it will be forgotten. Shame.
The “Captain Obvious” Award goes to … David Ross!
It’s rare that mic’d up audio captures anything worthwhile. Typically, you’ll just hear guys yelling “Woooo!” when good things happen.
But we got a rare useful peek into the dugout in Game 7 when the Fox broadcast caught Anthony Rizzo going to veteran David Ross for some advice on controlling his emotions. Rizzo said he was an absolute wreck.
Ross told Rizzo to breathe.
That type of veteran leadership doesn’t grow on trees, folks.
The “Surely, You Can’t Be Serious” Award goes to … David Ross!
All of that stuff earlier about how dominant Andrew Miller had been? Well, consider that when remembering that it was David Ross who took him deep. David Ross!
David Ross is good, no doubt. But is he home run off the most dominant pitcher good? Not really. But then, he was.
The dinger (Ross’ second of the postseason after he hit 10 all year) really stretched the limits of the old saying that “you can’t predict baseball.”
The “Sorry, We Just Think You’re Old” Award goes to … yup, David Ross!
If any other player had stumbled over his own feet, it would be seen as a guy simply tripping. But when Ross didn’t know which way a ball bounced off his face and thus ended up stumbling, everyone’s reaction was the same: “Yup. Concussion. Poor fella. Take him out to pasture. He’s all done.”
Then he went and finished the inning behind the plate before hitting a home run off Andrew Miller.
Sorry, David. But congrats on all of these awards.
The “Bozo The Clown” Award goes to …. Corey Kluber!
Javier Baez had been expooooosed in this World Series for being A) unable to lay off breaking balls in the dirt and B) never making contact on breaking balls in the dirt.
Yet, for whatever reason, Corey Kluber went with a first pitch fastball to start the fifth inning with a high fastball. Baez sent it 408 feet to right-center field.
That’s a clown decision, bro.
The “LeBron James Lightning Rod” Award goes to … LeBron James!
People just hate that guy, man.
Can’t imagine why.
The “Doing Nothing To Curb Lame Jokes About Millenials” Award goes to … This Guy!
Game’s on, bub. Hope you got the high score on Candy Crush though.
The Grady Little Award goes to … Terry Francona!
Everything comes full circle, as long as you wait long enough.
And so it was that the man who got his big job in Boston because of Grady Little’s collapse ended up repeating history.
It wasn’t nearly as drastic, of course. But Corey Kluber clearly didn’t have it on this night. He had been a rock for Francona all postseason long, but on three days’ rest, pitching his sixth game of the playoffs, Kluber was spent.
And while Francona had reason to believe his ace could get out of the fourth following Addison Russell’s very short sacrifice fly, the reality was that Kluber wasn’t beating any bats. And when Willson Contreras belted a Kluber offering to the wall in center field to drive in Cleveland’s third run, it was unequivocally time to get Kluber out.
Instead, Francona let him finish the inning and then inexplicably go back out to the mound in the fifth. He gave up a homer on the first pitch.
Francona’s had the magic touch all postseason long, but in this instance, the Ghost of Grady haunted him, and he trusted his guy when it was clear he shouldn’t have.
The Billy Beane/Brad Pitt Award goes to … Theo Epstein
Look, if you took the time to read that long Wright Thompson feature about Theo last month and thought anything other than “Theo is angling for a biopic,” then I don’t know what to tell you other than OPEN YOUR EYES, SHEEPLE!
Theo tried very, very hard to be so weird in that story — from playing guitar till he bleeds, to putting laxatives in hummus (who does that, honestly?), to driving golf balls into employees’ faces inside office buildings, to dropping well-timed curse words, to competing in NFL combine-type exercises in the office, to force-feeding bread down an employee’s throat for superstitious purposes — that it was clear as day that Theo looked at Billy Beane and said, “Wait, that guy’s won nothing, and he got Brad Pitt to play him in a movie? And it made $110 million at the box office?!”
Theo’s a competitive fellow. And you may recall, it was Beane whom the Red Sox targeted for the vacant GM job in 2002 before going with Theo. Now, Epstein’s built champions for the two most historic, championship-starved teams in baseball.
The key difference between Theo’s movie and Beane’s is that Theo’s teams will actually win at the end.
It’s going to be a movie, folks. The only question is how they’re going to get Ben Affleck to look like a fresh-faced 29-year-old for Theo’s early days in Boston.