Tigers Sweep Yanks

Every Yankee-hater’s heart is swelling glad tonight after the Detroit Tigers’ four-game sweep in the ALCS. It wasn’t just the Tigers’ domination – they were never behind in any game – it was how bad the Yankees looked. They got two (two!) runs off Detroit starting pitching in four games, and both were scored by someone named Eduardo Nunez, who wasn’t even on the Yankees’ playoff roster when the series started.
Not only were the Yankee hitters impotent, they gave us hope of bad years to come. Look down the lineup: Ichiro is fading – Seattle was much improved by his departure. Curtis Granderson was exposed as a strikeout artist, and he’s on the wrong side of 30, too. Robinson Cano, supposedly the best player in New York and the only youth in the Yankee lineup, set a record by going 0-for-29 and responded with lackluster effort and poor defense. Derek Jeter, my personal bete noire for his smug manner, epitomizing ‘Yankee cool,’ broke his ankle and, at 37, will have a hard time ever reaching this year’s level. Nick Swisher is probably at the end of his time with the Yankees; and Mark Texeira, who mishandled two ground balls today, has, it’s safe to say, peaked. A-Rod? He’s been in steady decline and was thoroughly humiliated by his own manager as well as the Tiger pitchers, lefthanded and right. Who are the backups? Eric Chavez, Brett Gardner, a catcher no one has heard of – where will the Yankees turn next year, while they are still paying huge salaries to all of the above? Their pitching is forgettable, as well. Andy Pettite and Mariano Rivera are in the twilights of their careers. C.C. Sabathia is the only solid starter, and the Tigers rocked him tonight. It’s no stretch to believe that his best years are behind him. Somehow the Yankees compiled the AL’s best regular-season record this year. Including the playoffs, though, they were barely ahead of the Orioles. You have to think – with great pleasure – that this particular dynasty has ended.
As a Twins fan, my delight at the Tigers’ success is slightly alloyed with the recognition that they are now the dynasty to contend with. Theoretically, all their players still could have their best years ahead of them. Austin Jackson gets better every season, and they pulled a player out of Double-A, Avilais Gomez, who looked right at home facing the Yankees in the playoffs. Miguel Cabrera has obviously matured since his meltdown before the one-game playoff with the Twins a few years ago, and it is a pleasure to watch him hit, he is so completely comfortable at the plate. The most fun, though, is Prince Fielder, who seems to enjoy himself 100% of the time and brings that joy to his teammates, too. What a contrast to their Twins counterparts, Mauer and Morneau. Watching Fielder catch the final out today, motioning everyone away from a routine popup, brought tears to my eyes that I hadn’t felt since Argo. Then there is Justin Verlander, who is not only the most fun pitcher to watch because of his control and his stuff, it turns out he’s a fun personality, too. He was miked up for a half-inning of today’s game and held his own with the TBS announcers.
Speaking of announcers, the Tigers-Yankees series was a pleasure to watch. Ernie Johnson calls a clean game and his commentators – Ron Darling and John Smoltz – were smart and never intrusive – i.e., the exact opposite of Tim McCarver, who is doing the NLCS on Fox with Joe Buck. The TBS postgame show was also excellent, largely because of Dennis Eckersley, although Cal Ripken was also a creditable contributor (David Wells not so much). I also highly applaud a TBS innovation – keeping the pitch-track box on the screen for the entire at-bat, showing not only where the last pitch went, but where every pitch in the sequence crossed the plate. How long until this is standard on every baseball broadcast?
Will the World Series be an anticlimax? Probably, if only because I won’t be able to concentrate on the games, with McCarver babbling pointlessly. Also, I’m not as familiar with either St. Louis or San Francisco as I was with the American Leaguers, and from what I’ve seen of the Cardinals I don’t like their facial hair. I will hope that the Tigers continue to roll. Maybe a World Series win will make them less hungry next year. But for the moment, I can’t begrudge their potential supremacy over my Twins. I am first and foremost a Yankee-Hater at heart.

Instant Replay, Baseball Edition

The horrible call in last night’s Yankees-Tigers game that resulted in two very unearned runs for the Tigers could easily be avoided by a system that Major League Baseball does not appear to be considering, perhaps because it is the exact same system that the NFL currently uses: give each manager two challenges a game. Balls and strikes would be excluded, of course – just as many species of decision cannot be challenged in football – but everything else is fair game. With only two challenges at his disposal, a manager would have to be wary about using them – thus, saving them for game-changing moments and plays where the evidence should be clear.
Rather than slowing the game, a challenge system would speed it up. No longer would we have to wait for the manager to come trotting out of the dugout, engage in a lengthy conversation often requiring the presence of other umpires, then slowly tromp back to his seat, if he hasn’t been ejected, which then consumes a further minute or two. Under my proposal, he could toss a red flag from his back pocket without even moving; a replay official in the booth upstairs would review as many replay angles as are needed or available; he would then communicate electronically with the home plate, or other designated, umpire; and the call would either stand or be reversed. Further appeal would be futile. Note the one change from the NFL: there would be no need for the umpire or umpires to leave the field and look at the replays themselves, as baseball currently does for its limited home run/not home run review. If the missed call isn’t obvious to independent eyes in the skybox, the call stands.
Last night, Infante was out by two feet on Cano’s tag, and every replay angle showed the same thing. In sixty seconds, the call could have been corrected and the game could have proceeded without controversy. As for second-guessing the umpire, what umpire wants to be remembered for a bad call? And if MLB wants to proceed even more cautiously in this direction, start with one challenge per game. I’ll bet most will never be used, and pointless arguing will be curtailed even further. If a manager doesn’t have the courage to throw his flag, how seriously will the umpire take the manager who comes out to complain?