King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Kenny Rogers and his all-powerful Smudge shut down the Cardinals and tie the World Series.

Published October 23, 2006 4:00PM (EDT)

Finally, the other team won Game 2.

For the first time since 2003, the World Series won't be a sweep. Eighteen-year veteran Kenny Rogers and his pet dirt smudge pitched the Detroit Tigers to a 3-1 win in Game 2 Sunday, evening the Series after rookie Anthony Reyes had pitched the St. Louis Cardinals to a 7-2 win in Game 1 Saturday.

Rogers co-starred with Craig Monroe, who hit a first-inning home run, with Carlos Guillen, who had a single, double and triple, and with that smudge of dirt -- or something -- on his pitching thumb.

TV cameras captured something brown and smudgy at the base of Rogers' left thumb in the first inning, when he gave up a walk and an infield single that should have been scored an error, but escaped by getting Juan Encarnacion on a comebacker. In the second, the smudge was gone and, smudge-free, Rogers didn't give up another hit until the eighth.

With an off day Monday, the smudge figures to become a major character in this World Series. If everything breaks just right, it'll be on "The Surreal Life" next year. Game 2 will forever be known as the Smudge Game. The Smudge itself will be capitalized.

What was it? Pine tar? Hair gel? Magical pitch-enhancing goo? Rogers said it was dirt. When pressed, he said it was dirt and rosin mixed together, the result of rubbing up the baseballs. He said umpire Alfonso Marquez told him about it after the first inning and he wiped it off. Steve Palermo, the supervisor of umpires, told the same story, reminding the press that dirt is not a foreign substance, it's part of the game.

Asked how the umpires knew it was dirt, Palermo said, "It was observed as dirt." He pointed out that the umpires are highly trained professionals, able to spot dirt. "This isn't their first summer away from home," he said.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who can make a big deal out of anything, didn't make a big deal out of it. There was a fair amount of media speculation that that was because La Russa and Tigers manager Jim Leyland are good friends, but I'm not buying it. No way La Russa lets friendship get in the way of making a stink about the other team cheating if he thinks that's what they're doing.

It's hard to argue with Rogers' post-Smudge results: seven innings, no runs, one hit, two walks. But not so fast: ESPN looked at tape of Rogers' first two playoff starts, against the New York Yankees and Oakland A's, and the network reports that "a similar-looking brown substance was spotted on Rogers' hand."

Smudge: The Early Years!

Just because Rogers pitched well after he got busted doesn't mean he wasn't trying to cheat. So we have our first rhubarb in this so-far uncontroversial playoff year that's been such a contrast to 2005, the Year of the Umpiring Screwup.

It's been a pretty low-voltage rhubarb in these first few hours. But I suspect that if the Tigers win the Series, there will be Cardinals fans boring their friends with elaborate Smudge conspiracy theories in 2036. And maybe there will be Tigers fans fondly remembering the '06 title team. Smudge and Pudge. Who can forget 'em?

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Two questions for Jim Leyland [PERMALINK]

1. Why have you benched Marcus Thames for two games to get Sean Casey's bat into the lineup? Casey posted a .650 OPS in 50 games after coming over from Pittsburgh, about 100 points below his usual anemic showing. And he's got a bad calf. Thames slumped down the stretch, but the whole team did. He had 26 homers in 348 at-bats this year.

Since Casey can't play the field, he has to DH, which means Thames sits. Thames slugged .549 on the year. You found a way to get Ramon Santiago to the plate six times in the first two games. Maybe find a way to get Thames up there?

2. Why isn't Joel Zumaya your closer, and just how bad would things have to have gotten with Todd Jones in the ninth inning Sunday before Zumaya got in the game?

You remember Zumaya, don't you? Tips the gun at like 160 mph, struck out 97 in 83 and a third innings, had an ERA of 1.94, hasn't pitched since Oct. 10? That's the guy.

Jones was victimized by a two-out error -- his own -- in that near disastrous ninth. But that only put runners at first and third. He then gave up a double to Juan Encarnacion for 3-1 and hit Preston Wilson with a pitch before getting NLCS hero Yadier Molina to ground into a force play. Then Jones made a weird, exasperated "Finally. Thank you" gesture toward second base and turned to catcher Pudge Rodriguez with an expression of utter disgust, though to be fair, he was probably disgusted with himself.

If there's one thing that strikes fear into the hearts of Tigers fans, it has to be the fact that Todd Jones is the closer, even though he got the job done for most of the year. Joel Zumaya, Jim. Look into it.

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Kenny Rogers: Unhittable in October! [PERMALINK]

Kenny Rogers is a pretty good illustration of the uselessness of a lot of the stats that get thrown at you. All you heard about Rogers before the playoffs started was that he'd always been terrible in the postseason.

With the New York Yankees in 1996, the New York Mets in 1999 and the Minnesota Twins in 2003, Rogers had gone 0-3 with an 8.85 earned-run average. He famously walked in the pennant-winning run in '99.

An 8.85 ERA, in case you didn't catch it the first 100 times.

After Sunday night's brilliant, eight-inning, two-hit shutout performance, Rogers is 3-3 with a 4.15 ERA. All of a sudden he looks like a halfway decent postseason pitcher, doesn't he?

Sure, he's had a ridiculously great postseason, but it's been only three games. His postseason "career" still consists of 12 games, eight of them starts. We're talking about less than two months' worth of work. It's not enough to judge a guy on. Especially when those 12 games were spread over 11 years. Hasn't every cell in Kenny Rogers' body been replaced since 1996?

Calling Rogers a postseason liability before this month was silly, and concluding that he's an unhittable postseason monster from these last three games is just as silly, not to downplay how astonishingly good Rogers has been this October.

Unless a guy's been playing for the Yankees or the Atlanta Braves for the last decade or so, his postseason stats probably don't mean much.

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