Pitching, Power Won for White Sox
Chicago general manager Ken Williams built his team around speed this season and there are many traditionalists in and around baseball, including my good friend, Marty Lurie, who salivate at the idea of stealing bases, using the hit-and-run, sacrificing runners along, hitting to the right side of the infield to move the runner along.
There are times when “little ball” makes sense. One of those situations came up in the eighth inning last night. Willie Harris singled as a pinch-hitter, was sacrificed to second, moved to third on Carl Everett’s ground out and then scored the game’s only run .
But the White Sox also won two Series games with home runs late in the game, Scott Podsednik’s walk-off home run won game 2, and Geoff Blum’s home run in the 14th won game 3.
Power is usually what wins games, and that’s been true since the Babe Ruth Yankees of the 1920s popularized the “big inning” theory – that the winning team often scored more runs in one inning than the losing team scored in the whole game.
A team doesn’t produce big innings by giving up an out with a sacrifice – or with a stolen base attempt that isn’t successful. Numerous statistical studies have shown that a team with a runner on first and no outs has a better chance for a big inning than a team with a runner on second and one out. So, except for specific situations like the one last night, or with a weak hitter at the plate – usually a pitcher in a National League game – sacrificing makes no sense.
In the early days of baseball, the dead ball era, the stolen base was an important offensive weapon. Since the advent of the lively ball and the emphasis on home runs, there has been little correlation between stolen bases and winning. Long-time A’s fans know that first-hand. The 1976 team set am American League record with 341 stolen bases, but it was the first A’s team in six years that did not win even a division title. In 1982, Rickey Henderson set a major league record with 130 stolen bases, but the A’s finished fifth, 25 games out of first place.
There is a strong correlation between home runs and high on-base percentage and winning. Beane and his predecessor, Sandy Alderson have preached that, but they’ve hardly invented it. Earl Weaver, when he managed the Baltimore Orioles, disdained base stealing and talked of the glory of the three-run homer, which could come after two hits, two walks or one of each. Weaver won three straight American League pennants, 1969-71, with that philosophy.
The A’s of the 1988-70 period had an abundance of power, with Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire leading the way, In 1989 and ’90, Henderson was also a factor with 52 and 65 stolen bases – but the A’s had won 104 games without him the year before.
When they fell out of contention this year, it was because of a lack of power, not speed.
THE OTHER essential ingredient for success is pitching, and the White Sox and A’s approach is identical in that regard.
The A’s three World Championship teams in the ‘70s were built around great pitching, both the starters and the relievers. Two members of that staff, Catfish Hunter and Rollie Fingers, are in the Hall of Fame, and they had great depth both in the starting rotation and the bullpen.
The 1988-90 team had Dave Stewart, an incomparable big game pitcher, heading up a staff with Bob Welch and Mike Moore, and Hall of Fame closer Dennis Eckersley.
The most recent A's playoff teams were built around the “Big Three” of Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. Only Zito remains now, but the A’s are once again putting together a topflight staff with Rich Harden, Dan Haren and Joe Blanton added to the mix.
The White Sox are already there, of course, with a superb pitching staff that was the key to their success. Their postseason statistics are mind-boggling. Their ERA for their 11-1 run through the playoffs was 2.55, and they got better as they went along, allowing only six hits to the Houston Astros in the last 19 innings and holding the Astros scoreless for the final 15.
The Astros got as far as they did on the strength of their pitching. Many “experts” thought they’d win the Series because they had Roy Oswalt, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte, all of whom had extensive postseason experience, and Brad Lidge as the closer. But only Pettitte pitched well and, even if they’d all been at their best, it wouldn’t have been enough because the White Sox pitching totally exposed the Astros lack of hitting.
The White Sox also benefited from some bad umpiring. In game 2 of the Division Series, A. J. Pierzynski reached base after plate umpire Doug Eddings ruled that Josh Paul had not fielded the ball cleanly on Pierzynski’s swinging third strike, though Eddings seemed to signal an out. A pinch-runner, Pablo Ozuma, then scored the winning run. In game 2 of the World Series, Dye scored the winning run after being awarded first base for supposedly being hit by a pitch; a television replay showed it hitting his bat, and Dye admitted after the game that it had.
Umpiring seems to be getting steadily worse, and umpires are getting more sensitive. Both St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and centerfielder Jim Edmonds got thrown out of a game in the NLCS. Tossing the manager is one thing, but throwing out a key hitter in that important a game should never happen.
Perhaps baseball should consider the use of television cameras to review plays. I’ve been against that in the past, but something drastic needs to be done to improve the umpiring.
THE WHITE SOX win ended one of the most unpredictable seasons in memory. Who would have thought the Red Sox and Yankees would fade so quickly in the postseason, or that the A’s and Astros would recover from starts in which they were 15 games below .500, the A’s getting into the race for the AL West title and the Astros eventually winning the NL wild card and getting to the World Series.
So, it was fitting that the White Sox won the World Series for the first time since 1917. Now, only the Cleveland Indians (1948) and Chicago Cubs (1908) have had longer droughts than the Giants, who last won in 1954, when they were still in New York. The Indians have a young, improving team that could win in the next year or two, but the Giants will never get to the top of that dubious list because the Cubs are forever doomed.
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