On a slippery field on a misty night in a Game 4 the weather forecasters spent two days saying wouldn’t be played Thursday night, the Tigers slid and skidded and threw away a 3-0 lead to the St. Louis Cardinals and their hitting star of the night, David Eckstein, who’s 5-foot-7, soaking wet.
The Cardinals won 5-4, with all but one of their runs affected by fielding miscues, most of them water-related. St. Louis leads the World Series 3-1, with Game 5 scheduled for Friday night, again in St. Louis, again with a pessimistic forecast.
Eckstein had four hits, three of them doubles, two of those courtesy of misplays by Tigers outfielders, one of those caused by a slip on the wet grass. A fourth error by a Tigers pitcher in as many games helped Eckstein come home with the tying run. Left fielder Craig Monroe misplaying Eckstein’s line drive in the eighth inning brought home the eventual winner.
It was a weird game all along. Sean Casey hit a home run. The Cardinals played hit-and-run with pitcher Jeff Suppan batting and had help from either the elements or Tigers fielders on four of their five runs.
St. Louis’ seventh-inning rally from 3-2 down started when Eckstein’s fly ball to deep center fell for a double because center fielder Curtis Granderson slipped and fell as he chased it. Granderson made a heroic effort to get back up, find the ball and lunge after it, but he didn’t get close. You’ve heard of a wind-blown double? This was a Slip ‘N Slide double.
Eckstein came home when pinch-hitter So Taguchi bunted and Detroit reliever Fernando Rodney — who had struck out two to get starter Jeremy Bonderman out of a jam in the sixth — fielded the ball awkwardly and launched a throw 10 feet over Placido Polanco’s head at first. Is there anybody on the Tigers staff who can throw to a base? Preston Wilson eventually singled Taguchi home with the go-ahead run.
The Tigers tied it 4-4 in the eighth on doubles by Ivan Rodriguez and Brandon Inge, but they weren’t done handing out doubles to Eckstein. With Aaron Miles at second and two outs in the bottom of the inning the St. Louis shortstop fought off an inside pitch from Joel Zumaya and hit a liner to left-center.
Monroe took a bad route, starting straight to his left, then curling back. He dived and the ball ticked off his outstretched glove. It would have looked like a spectacular catch if he’d made it, which is why you can’t judge how good a fielder a guy is by the spectacular plays he makes. Had Monroe judged the ball correctly, he could have made a fairly routine catch.
It wasn’t exactly a proud display by the American League champions, who need three straight wins to avoid what would have to be considered a major upset. The Cardinals, who went 83-78, would have the worst record of any World Series champion in history.
And that just might be the Tigers’ problem. They were supposed to be the plucky underdogs this postseason. The Cardinals have horned in on their act. Maybe they’ve stolen their mojo.
The Cards don’t seem to be getting much underdog love. Maybe that’s because they look pretty much like the team that won 205 games and a pennant in 2004-05, maybe because they’re better than that 83-78 record now that Rolen and Jim Edmonds are healthy and disastrous hurlers Jason Marquis and Mark Mulder have been replaced by sometimes-effective Jeff Weaver and Anthony Reyes.
But maybe it’s because we’re all just confused. We were supposed to be pouring that love on the plucky Tigers, the best story in baseball, the upstarts who — have you heard this? — lost 119 games just three years ago. And then the Tigers got to the World Series and they were the favorites. Everybody said they’d win it in five or six. No wonder they’re out of sorts. They’re as confused as we all are.
Either that or that last third of the season, when they went 19-31, wasn’t the fluke, the seven-game winning streak against the New York Yankees and Oakland A’s in the playoffs was.
The weather report says rain all day Friday, but clearing around 9 p.m. local time. The Tigers will no doubt spend the day worrying over their shoes, trying to figure out which type of spikes give them the best traction.
They might be better served rethinking the decision to let Justin Verlander, a terrible pitcher over the last six weeks, take the ball even though Kenny Rogers, Smudge and all, will be on full rest. Weaver will start for the Cardinals.
The Tigers’ best hope for extending their season might be more rain.
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NFL Week 8 [PERMALINK]
I’m starting to believe. Starting to believe in the power of the coin.
My son, Buster, coin-flippinest 3-year-old this side of the Kuiper belt, and I don’t mean Mel’s belly, is leading the Panel o’ Experts standings by two games over his closest competitors, a foursome I doubt has ever been named together in print before: Cris Carter and Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, Mike Golic of ESPN and erotic model Adriana Sage.
Those four and the rest of the panel members — present company excepted — all have their areas of expertise, but they all trail Buster’s coin. His system, again, is to take all favorites of six points or more, and flip for the other games. The favorites are 31-7 so far, but the coin — an ’06 Nevada quarter — which should be batting around .500, has gone 38-24.
How to explain that? Statistical noise? Randomness? Dumb luck? Nuh-uh.
Meanwhile, I’m working on an unprecedented streak. My What the Heck™ Picks are 0-7 so far. Since a WTH™ Pick is a pick of a team I think is going to lose, that means I’ve been right about the game’s outcome all seven times. It strikes me that an 0-16 What the Heck™ record — WTH™ gets a bye week, just like the teams do — would be quite an achievement, equivalent to going undefeated in a “Lock of the Week” type pick.
It also strikes me that there’s no way that’s happening, but I’m starting the What the Heck™ Pick Perfecto Watch right here, and it is of course available for sponsorship.
I also pledge that if I go winless with my WTH™ Picks, I’ll donate $1 million to charity! (Please see note at end of column.)
Here are the Week 8 picks, October limit of two sentences per still in effect, with winners in caps and the picks of Our Leader included.
Sunday early games
Arizona (1-6) at GREEN BAY (2-4): The Cardinals are in full-on fall-apart mode while the Packers are showing signs of life. So I should take the Cardinals, but I won’t.
Buster’s pick: Arizona (coin)
TAMPA BAY (2-4) at N.Y. Giants (4-2): The Giants are beat up on defense and coming off a big Monday night win over the Cowboys. The Bucs’ last four games, two wins and two losses, all against at least potential playoff teams, have been decided by a total of eight points.
Buster’s pick: N.Y. Giants (9-point favorites)
SAN FRANCISCO (2-4) at Chicago (6-0): What the Heck™ Pick of the week.
Buster’s pick: Chicago (16-point favorites)
Seattle (4-2) at KANSAS CITY (3-3): With Shaun Alexander a week away, Matt Hasselbeck goes down. Maybe that Super Bowl loser’s curse is kicking in, but at any rate, the Seneca Wallace mini-era starts here. And I do mean mini, if I may borrow a sentence from the previous blurb to joke about Wallace’s stature.
Buster’s pick: Kansas City (6-point favorites)
Jacksonville (3-3) at PHILADELPHIA (4-3): What to make of the Jags, who are 0-3 on the road and got smoked by Houston last week? The Eagles keep losing squeakers.
Buster’s pick: Philadelphia (7-point favorites)
Houston (2-4) at TENNESSEE (1-5): Considering the combined records, this is a pretty intriguing matchup, with both teams coming off a good win and rookie Titans quarterback Vince Young facing his hometown team, which passed on him as the No. 1 pick. A pretty even game, so I’ll take the home team.
Buster’s pick: Houston (coin)
Baltimore (4-2) at NEW ORLEANS (5-1): Baltimore coach Brian Billick, who was the offensive coordinator when Minnesota scored about 12,000 points in 1998, has fired Jim Fassel and taken over those duties with the Ravens, who have been a defensive power throughout his tenure. I’m not convinced it’ll help much, nor will the raucous crowd in the Superdome.
Buster’s pick: New Orleans (coin)
Atlanta (4-2) at CINCINNATI (4-2): Michael Vick had his best game as a quarterback last week against the Steelers, and meanwhile the injury-riddled Bengals offense has sputtered in the last few weeks. In other words, I have no idea, so I’ll take the Bengals on the theory that I’ll believe Vick as a consistent NFL passer when I see it, though I do still expect to see it someday.
Buster’s pick: Cincinnati (coin)
Sunday late games
St. Louis (4-2) at SAN DIEGO (4-2): The Chargers couldn’t get a pass rush going against the Chiefs, but should be able to in this one. I’m still not buying the Rams, who are thriving with their “hope the other team loses a fumble in the closing minutes” strategy.
Buster’s pick: San Diego (9.5-point favorites)
PITTSBURGH (2-4) at Oakland (1-5): The Steelers need to start winning some games if they’re going to make the playoffs to defend their title. Oh, look, here’s one.
Buster’s pick: Pittsburgh (8.5-point favorites)
N.Y. JETS (4-3) at Cleveland (1-5): The Jets are pretty much beating the teams they should beat and losing to the teams they should lose to, but other than the blowout loss at Jacksonville, all of the games have been close. In other words, they look like a legitimate .500-ish team, which is a big improvement, and this one, against the other team that’s just fired its offensive coordinator — never a sign of health at midseason — they should win.
Buster’s pick: N.Y. Jets (coin)
Indianapolis (6-0) at DENVER (5-1): In the game of the week, the Colts’ inability to stop the run will spell the end to one of the last three undefeated records this year, along with the Bears and my What the Heck™ Picks. Peyton Manning’s offense against the red-hot Broncos defense is the matchup of the year so far.
Buster’s pick: Indianapolis (coin)
Sunday night game
Dallas (3-3) at CAROLINA (4-3): It takes a special kind of chutzpah to play as poorly as Drew Bledsoe has played and then act all insulted when you get benched. The Tony Romo era begins … with a loss.
Buster’s pick: Carolina (coin)
Monday night game
New England (5-1) at MINNESOTA (4-2): I underestimated the Vikings last week and they went into Seattle and put a beat on the Seahawks. And now I think I’m about to overestimate them.
Buster’s pick: New England (coin)
Note: If I can’t afford to donate $1 million to charity, I will donate $50.
Season record: 56-44
Last week: 5-8
What the Heck™ Picks: 0-7
Odds that I’ll be able to pull off the perfect 0-16 What the Heck™ Pick record, expressed in terms of their relationship to the odds of my becoming the next offensive coordinator of either the Ravens or Browns: Even
Previous column: Rained out
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