Salvador Perez, the indestructible Kansas City Royals catcher, was named most valuable player of the recent World Series, and was rewarded with a new Chevy Camaro. I believe the MVP of the Super Bowl gets a car, too. The car remains a powerful symbol in the American psyche.
But putting the subject of cars aside for the moment – were the Royals not magnificent? A team without sluggers or superstars, they singled and sacrificed their opponents to death. They stole bases. They took advantage of every error. They were relentless. Though they dispatched the New York Mets in five games, each victory was filled with drama.
The most dramatic moment, and the most controversial, was when Mets manager Terry Collins let his headstrong pitcher, Matt Harvey, change his mind about taking him out after eight shutout innings. The rest is history. Walk, double, relief pitcher, weak ground ball, error – two runs, tie game. The Royals went on to win, and clinch the Series, in extra innings.
My girlfriend thinks it’s a morality play on hubris. Harvey was striking out a lot of Royals, and doing gorilla yells as he came off the mound each inning. The crowd was eating it up. Collins had already decided that his closer, Jeurys Familia, would pitch the ninth. Harvey talked him out of it. By the time Familia got into the game, two batters later, the Royals had scored and put the tying run on second with nobody out. Harvey, my girlfriend says, should have let manager and reliever do their jobs, instead of taking it all upon himself.
No pitcher ever wants to come out of a game. And good pitchers are praised and valued for that tenacity. Jack Morris won game seven of the 1991 World Series for the Minnesota Twins with a 10-inning shutout. He argued with his manager to stay in that game. People forget that Morris got lucky when a base runner fell down on what would otherwise have been a run-scoring double in the eighth or ninth inning. Had that run scored, the Twins would have lost, 1-0, to the Atlanta Braves.
And then that manager would have been criticized, just as Collins is, for leaving his pitcher in too long. There’s no guaranteed outcome. That’s the beauty of baseball.
In the final game of the 1995 World Series, Tom Glavine was pitching a one-hit shutout, and the Braves were up 1-0 on the Cleveland Indians going into the ninth. On TV, the announcers debated whether manager Bobby Cox should bring in closer Mark Wohlers to get the last three outs. Glavine was dealing. But that’s why you have a relief specialist, one broadcaster said. That’s what you pay him for: to nail down close games.
Wohlers came in and secured the championship. But he could have just as easily given up a game-tying homer. Familia might not have gotten the Royals out in the ninth, either, had he started the inning. We’ll never know.
I’m a fan of complete games. But it’s a call the manager is paid to make. Johnny Cueto went the distance in the second game of this World Series, only because the Royals had built a safe 7-1 lead. Orel Hershiser nailed down the 1988 Series for the Dodgers with two complete games, and Morris, pitching for the Tigers, went the distance twice against the Padres in 1984.
I fell asleep before the end of Cueto’s masterpiece. But I remember the Morris, Glavine and Hershiser games well, because I watched them all from the West Coast, where the games start, and mostly end, at reasonable hours.
Television is doing its best to kill baseball. Is it too much to ask to watch a World Series game during the day, at least on the weekend? I know that football sells more cars (see how I worked back around to that?), but come on. Football’s popularity is no excuse to bury postseason baseball. Playing the World Series entirely at night has already alienated a generation of kids. It’s now beginning to discourage even longtime fans like me.
The Royals, though, were worth lost sleep. They won with small ball, and late inning rallies. Salvador Perez, who popped up to end last year’s World Series, was the hero of this one. His team staged two hugely entertaining postseason runs, culminating in a championship.
It’s a shame so much of it happened while much of America slept.