Even matchups in divisional series
Of the 21 divisional series that have been played since the 2004 baseball postseason, only three of them have gone to a full five games. That's only one in seven, a strikingly low proportion, and I haven't heard any good explanations for it. This year, in contrast, at least two of the four first-round series are going to a fifth game, for the first time since 2003 (see the Postseason scores page), and if the Diamondbacks hold their lead over the Brewers in the game currently underway in Phoenix (it's 10-6 in the eighth inning), it would be three such series, which would be for the first time since 2001. Now that's competitive! [UPDATE: The Diamondbacks held on to their lead and won 10-6, so now the series is an even 2-2, heading back to St. Louis for Game 5 on Friday.]
In St. Louis earlier this evening, the Cardinals avoided elimination at the hands of the Phillies, thanks largely to Daniel Freese, who batted in four of the team's five runs with a home run and a double. I had never even heard of him, frankly. So I checked and learned that he's 28 years old, plays third base, and was drafted by the Padres in 2006. Anyway, the Cards scored twice in the first inning, but their pitcher Roy Oswalt couldn't hold the lead. Somehow they squeezed 47,071 fans into Busch Stadium which only has 43,975 seats. The capacity including standing room is 46,861, so I guess they were stacked on top of each other.
Last night the Yankees survived a near-death experience in Detroit. Derek Jeter played a key role, hitting a two-run double in the third inning, getting on the board first. He also made a great catch of a line drive hit by Miguel Cabrera in the sixth inning. To the surprise of nearly everyone, starting pitcher A.J. Burnett had one of his best outings all year, enabling the Yankees to hold on to a 4-1 lead through the sixth inning. Things might have been completely different, however, if it hadn't been for two spectacular catches by center fielder Curtis Granderson.* The bases were loaded in the bottom of the first, and he initially misjudged a ball hit by Don Kelly. But then he quickly reacted, ran back, and jumped to grab the ball. It's 420 feet to center field in Comerica Park, and that could have easily turned into a rare inside-the-park grand slam. I was listening to WCBS radio (AM 880 -- long broadcast range!) in my car for a few innings, including the moment in the sixth inning when Granderson made that flying leap of a catch in left-center field, robbing Jhonny Peralta of a double. If you haven't seen the video replays already, go to MLB.com. The Yankees went on to score six runs in the eighth inning, winning 10-1.
At Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, the Texas Rangers prevailed over the Tampa Bay Rays by a 4-3 score, becoming the first team to advance to the league championship series. All four Rangers runs came from solo shots. Ian Kinsler homered in the first inning, but the hero of Game 4 on Tuesday was Adrian Beltre, who hit three (3) home runs, tying a postseason record. Babe Ruth and Reggie Jackson accomplished that feat in the 1926, 1928, and 1977 World Series; a few other players did likewise.
Tomorrow (Thursday) the Yankees will host the Tigers back in The Bronx for the decisive Game 5, and the losing team will be finished for the year. That's a rest day for the National League teams. The American League Championship Series begins on Saturday, and the Rangers will have had three days rest, compared to only one for their opponent. Personally, I see no need for staggering the playing dates. It's probably designed to maximize TV revenues, but it also creates a built-in inequality between opponents.
* I goofed two days ago by prematurely announcing that Granderson had won the American League MVP award. Had I read the blog post by David Pinto more closely, I would have seen that Granderson was the choice of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America, not the actual, authoritative Baseball Writers Association of America. And I thought I had found a hot news item -- D'oh! My apologies to the other leading AL MVP candidates, Jacoby Ellisbury and Jose Bautista. The MVP awards will be given out November 21 and 22.