The matchup may have been inspired by memories of childhood and early adulthood listening on the radio or watching on TV (once in person in ’41) those great Borough Subway Series: ’41, 47′, ’49, ’52, ’53, ’55 and ’56 (Dodgers/Yankees) and ’51 (Giants/Yankees). And in retirement, the 2000 Mets/Yankees.
Occasionally this season, you will be informed of the (infallible) progress of the roadmap to the World Series.
Opening Day is one such occasion. Last night the Mets and Kansas City Royals debuted in a rematch of their October tangle won by the Royals in five games. Eugene offers his opening day analysis of the eventual World Series champions below.
The interleague rematch was the first time the previous World Series teams had met opening day. Purist may say baseball is mimicking an NFL gimmick, but it made for great TV. And for Met fans, the game 6 that never was.
Speaking of interleague play, here is one fan. Unfortunately, with an odd number of teams in each league, interleague play must be spaced out over the course of the season. I loved it when, just at midsummer, the schedule was filled with weeks of interleague play only.
I love those World Series matchups of yore when the broadcasts bring out grainy footage and vintage memorabilia going all the back to the Red Sox and Pirates in naught three. I love the rivalry series: Met/Yankees, Cubs/White Sox, LA/LA, and Giants/A’s. These hearken back to America’s urban heyday when Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Chicago each had two teams and New York three.
I do think the American League has an advantage using the designated hitter in its parks. National league teams don’t carry the DH type hitter on the roster. And, in the twenty years since American League pitchers have batted in National League parks, they had done surprisingly well. I’ve read that because AL pitchers hit so seldomly, they hyper focus on their limited opportunities.
Also, some pitchers are natural but unpracticed hitters. A few years back, C.C. Sabathia showed so much batting prowess with the AL Indians he was used as pinch hitter when traded to the NL Brewers. C.C. even won his own 1-0 shutout with a home run.
As for the AL using the DH and the NL not, also a big fan. I enjoy both variations of the game. When the pitcher must bat, like chess players, managers must look an inning or two ahead, plotting bunting, intentional walks, double switches and pinch hitting strategies.
And when the pitcher can hit well, everything changes. In the 70s and 80s, I loved watching the Phillie’s Steve Carlton help his cause when on the mound (3 home runs and 15 rbi’s and a .268 average in ’77) and also pinch hit.
As for the DH, prolonging the careers of aging stars is a good thing (the older I get, the more of a good thing it seems) such as when Henry Aaron DH’d for Milwaukee. And this year we will be enjoying A-Rod’s hitting. (Also, for some reason I like that the first DH ever to bat, in 1973, was Ron Blomberg, Jewish like Eugene.)
The use of the DH was most interesting in previous decades when starting pitchers went longer and teams used more position players. In the 70s, the A’s carried 16 position players. Not having to save batters to pinch hit for the pitcher, the A’s carried defensive and pinch running specialists, including the track star Herb Washington.
In 1980, “Fast Food” Herb would open a McDonalds in inner city Rochester. And in 1986, one in Pittsford.
The A’s also used the second base position almost like the pitcher’s spot, using multiple weak sticks/slick gloves like Dick Green and Ted Kubiak in tandem with immobile pinch hitters like Jesus Alou and Rico Carty.
Earl Weaver pulled a similar tactic. In away games, outfielder Royle Stillman would officially start at shortstop and bat in the top of the first, promptly replaced by the real shortstop, the woeful hitting Mark Belanger, in the bottom of the inning.
For those who know Eugene, a year ago he had a non-profound stroke. He is recovering and very appreciative of the support offered by friends. Eugene’s doctors are divided whether following the Mets this season will buoy his spirits and advance his recovery or break his heart.
Before Sunday’s game, Eugene read “A Front-Row Seat. To Misery” Met fans who had sat in the front row during game five were asked to relive a traumatic play in the 9th inning. On a seemingly reckless dash, the Royal’s runner had tied the game and sent it to extra innings. In the 11th, the Royals nailed 5 runs into the Met’s coffin.
The answers spoke to a language-less, existential pain: “Not really even a human emotion. Just absolute despair.” And silence: “It just was silent in there [the front row]. The metaphysical anguish was physical: collapsing bodies, burning eyes, hand covered eyes, hands on heads, screams. My father remembers now that it felt like 1951 when Bobby Thompson beat the Dodgers with The Shot Heard Round The World.
But after having fallen in love again with Morganna and George Brett, I was rooting for the Royals. So I am with Leslie who was also there. It’s hilarious. Deal with it Met fans, remember how lucky you were in game 6 in ’86 when the ball trickled past Buckner’s glove like a tear on the cheek of a bride left at the altar.
When I arrived in the 5th inning, the Mets were losing 2-0. Eugene said he was “feeling very bad” about how the Mets were playing. So far, already having given up an unearned run, the Mets looked “the losers they were the last game of the World Series.” The body language of the Mets suggested they were still scarred by their October experience.
As for the Royals, Eugene said they picked up where they left off: using a sacrifice fly “to make something out of nothing.”
I asked how David Wright’s shoulder looked. Only minutes earlier, Wright had “fugged up on a ground ball.” (Eugene had used a different word. But we substituted the term Norman Mailer’s editors persuaded him to use in his WWII novel, The Naked and The Dead.) Then Wright was late on a tag at third, confirmed by replay. Eugene worried he looked slowed.
At one point, the Royals used a specially designed shift on the Met’s Duda. In recent years, advanced analytics have persuaded managers — after all these hundred plus years — that fielders might not be most effectively positioned on the diamond.
I thought Eugene might not like the trend. But he approved. He was one of those guys who bought early chess computers and marveled as machine finally beat man. If Big Data could help managers, more power to them. When Duda made out, Eugene said the results speak for themselves.
But then the Mets came alive, mounting a three run rally. Each run was one more element in the exorcism of last Fall’s bad spirits.
True, Eugene did indict Cespedes when he struck out in the eight to end the rally: “He’s a piece of shoot.” But, even in defeat, when the game ended, Eugene felt at peace. Despite giving up some runs, Harvey had been in command of all four of his pitches.
2015 was over.
The Times‘ online headline portayed Cespedes as Hamlet still haunted by the ghost of George Brett Cespedes Blunder Stirs Echoes of Met’s Past, and Worries for the Future.
Another suggested the Mets might be trapped in Santayana’s dictum on repeating the past: Royals Recreate History, Stifling the Mets in World Series Rematch
Eugene was far more sanguine. He is after all Nostradamus I. His prediction stands.