Baseball's winter meetings concluded with Thursday's Rule 5 draft, where the Rangers generated some of the biggest buzz of the week by selecting Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson. That tells you all you need to know. Team executives left Orlando without any major deals going down, setting the stage for a potentially busy dash to the holidays.
Still, the meetings weren't totally devoid of activity. Yesterday, we broke down the Mark Trumbo and Brett Anderson trades and the Rajai Davis signing. Now, let's examine the flurry of minor activity that went down as the meetings drew to a close — including the Mariners bulking up their offense, the Pirates reinforcing their pitching staff, and the Mets landing an intriguing senior citizen — and explore what might come next.
We were going to rave about David Freese, the playoff hero of all playoff heroes in 2011, doing it again in 2013. We were going to discuss Gerrit Cole's emergence as an excellent starting pitcher, and how the rookie's solid performance in an elimination game against a loaded lineup got swept under the rug by bigger factors. We were going to delve into a Cardinals player-development program so robust that a beastly, homegrown slugger like Allen Craig can get hurt, and another beastly, homegrown slugger like Matt Adams could emerge, blasting a big homer of his own late in the game. We were going to cover the great strides that the Pirates organization made this season, and how 2013 could be the start of something big.
There will be time for all those angles another day. Today, we're going to talk about Adam Wainwright.
In case you were busy stridently fighting off accusations of having brought the weather with you, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Adam Wainwright guided the Cardinals into the NLCS, throwing a complete game as St. Louis eliminated the Pittsburgh Pirates with a 6-1 win, because of course he did. David Freese hit a clutch home run in an elimination game, because of course he did. Yadier Molina was a rock both behind the plate and in the lineup all series long, because of course he was. Two of St. Louis's three Matts — Holliday and Adams — picked up the third, a slumping Carpenter, because of course they did. And the St. Louis Cardinals will now move on to the NLCS, where they will have home-field advantage against the Los Angeles Dodgers, because of course they will. In the NLCS the Cardinals will play a hard-fought, professional series, where win or lose the players will be able to leave with their heads held high, because the St. Louis Cardinals are the St. Louis Cardinals and will always be the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, continue to back up their preseason hype, getting a goal from Alexander Steen with 21 seconds left in regulation to edge the reigning Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2, and maintain their perfect start to the NHL season. Looking forward, the Blues will somehow contrive to both win their division by 12 points and get swept out of the Western Conference finals by inferior opposition, leaving them unable to hold their heads up high, because the St. Louis Blues are the St. Louis Blues and will always be the St. Louis Blues.
Pirates fans remember Sid Bream’s spikes-first slide into home plate as if his spikes had sliced through their collective femoral arteries. That was back in ’92, in the seventh game of the NLCS. The Pirates wouldn’t have a winning season for another 21 years. This week’s Cardinals-Pirates playoff series was about restoring life to a fan base that ranked no. 3 in Pittsburgh, behind the Steelers' and Penguins'.
“It just died,” said Craig Boruchov, an orthodontist. “I’ve never seen anything like that in sports.”
“Bream lumbering toward home plate ” said his dad, Michael, who is also an orthodontist.
“I crashed down in my dorm room when that happened,” Craig said.
We're only seven days into this year's MLB playoffs, and it's hard to figure out how things can get any better. Monday's events were so scintillating, so maddening, so ludicrous, that a dozen attempts at narratives have been tossed in the trash. Instead, we present 19 key moments from a quadrupleheader for the ages.
19. The Rays' defense has been terrible.
A Ben Zobrist throwing error led to the first Red Sox run of the game. It was Zobrist's second consecutive game with an error, after making four in 554 chances all year. Officially, that was the third error in three ALDS games for the Rays, after making just 59 in 163 regular-season games, the second-lowest total in the majors. Between those three miscues, multiple Green Monster adventures by Rays left fielders, and a handful of other mistakes that included a passed ball and a couple of errors in judgment, this ranks as one of the worst stretches for the Rays' normally solid defense in their entire six-year run of success. The Red Sox outplayed the Rays in every way over the first two games of this series. But Tampa Bay's shoddy defense made things worse, and threatened to push the Rays right out of the playoffs.
In case you were busy representing the University of Southern California in its quest to replace Lane Kiffin, here's what you missed in sports on Monday:
Juan Uribe hit the go-ahead home run and Brian Wilson earned the win as the Los Angeles Dodgers clinched a spot in the NLCS with a 4-3 win over the Atlanta Braves. "I called those guys before the game to wish them well," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy of Uribe and Wilson, with whom he won the 2010 World Series. "And then I said, 'The queen strikes at midnight.'" When asked why, Bochy said, "Well as it turned out, nothing happened. Which is very frustrating given the massive cash outlay our team made on those two before they left." Bochy then cocked his head to the side and appeared to enter a strange trance before adding robotically, "That said, I can't recommend hiring Tom the Hypnotist enough. Did you know he can be reached at 1-866-HYPNOTOM for all your hypnosis needs?"
Jets quarterback Geno Smith led his team on a game-winning drive and sent the Atlanta Falcons to their third straight loss, 30-28, at the Georgia Dome. The Jets now sit at 3-2 while the Falcons are 1-4, proving that gambling on NFL football before the season is a good idea because it's easy to predict what will happen.
In case you were busy signing with the Vikings in order to guarantee a Super Bowl ring, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The Pittsburgh Pirates are a game away from the National League Championship Series after Pedro Alvarez powered them to a 5-3 win over the St. Louis Cardinals. "Don't say anything," said Pittsburgh superfan Willie Langdon after the game. "Just no one say anything. This isn't happening. No one talk about this." When asked if he was excited, Langdon yelled, "Shh, shh, shh. No. Not excited. Why would I be excited?" before whispering under his breath, "You shut your damn mouth before this whole damn thing falls apart. It's built on Popsicle sticks and Silly Putty, and if you crush this dream I'll crush you."
Today's the day, Tony Romo thought to himself as he sat on the bench, helmet in his hands, feeling a feeling: pride? He was almost sure it was pride. He glanced at the scoreboard. 48-41. He looked at the field; his team's defense was outmatched. Didn't matter. Don't think about being a hero, don't think about being a hero. You become a hero by being a hero, not by thinking Be a hero. Also, maybe the defense will keep things together. Maybe. So just think about anything else. Like why do humans feel pain? Huh, that's a brain tickler. Think, Anthony, think why do humans feel pain?
In case you were busy fumbling your way to victory in Iowa, here's what you missed in sports on Thursday:
Your newest NFL juggernaut is the Cleveland Browns, who have now won three straight after defeating the Buffalo Bills, 37-24, behind the play of reserve quarterback Brandon Weeden. "No! What happened to Brian Hoyer?" yelled world's saddest man Gary Pittson as he checked his fantasy team at 2 a.m. while finishing up an unpaid overtime shift of data entry at Telecommunications Systems Inc. Pittson then scanned the waiver wire looking for Weeden and moaned, "Poor Hoyer, he was all I had left in this world well, him, this job, and the hope of finding Brandon Weeden. Where is he? He has to be here!" Unfortunately for Pittson, longtime rival and world-class bassist Teddy Jackson's wife Sandra Carmone had already picked Weeden up because she thought he had a funny name. Also, he had been noticed by floor supervisor Whit Rickenbauer, who added a demerit for unauthorized Internet use to Pittson's permanent file with the company, putting his employment status in serious jeopardy.
Despite having less than his best command, Clayton Kershaw allowed only three hits, collected 12 strikeouts, and secured his first postseason win as the Los Angeles Dodgers easily defeated the Atlanta Braves, 6-1, to take the first game of their National League Division Series. Despite the loss, the Braves have to consider themselves lucky. Had Kershaw had his best stuff, he would have likely allowed no hits while getting two himself, collected 29 strikeouts, and secured three wins in the game, instantly eliminating Atlanta from the postseason, and advancing his Dodgers directly to the World Series where they would have played themselves reflected in a giant mirror.
The playoffs are a time for triumph and joy, and in a month our lasting image for the season will be some team celebrating a World Series win with champagne and goggles. But it would be wrong to ignore the flip side of that coin. Wayyyy more teams will lose, and their fans will suffer heartbreak and pain. Plus hatred. Deep, ugly, satisfying hatred. The harsh fact is that if you're a fan of the nine remaining teams, there's an 88.888888 percent chance that you'll end up watching someone else's champagne bash with envy and bitterness. You don't want to admit it yet, but you probably are the 89 percent. To help you prepare, here's a quick primer on the most hateable player from each of the remaining teams.
The Pirates are off to St. Louis, while the Reds are headed home after Pittsburgh won the wild-card elimination game 6-2 Tuesday night, before a delirious home crowd at PNC Park. It was a monumental win for a franchise that had gone 21 years since its last postseason victory. It was also a game that met nearly every pregame expectation.
Francisco Liriano just had the best season by a left-handed starting pitcher vs. left-handed hitters in major league history. The Reds responded by doing nothing.
In case yinz were busy getting to Pittsburgh to wait, yinz? Who the hell are yinz? Anyway, here's what you may have missed in sports on Tuesday:
Oh my goodness, hockey's back? Hockey's back! And with it came a barrage of goals from defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago, which beat Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, 6-4, in its season opener. "Ten goals?" yelled 58-year-old Blackhawks fan Gary Habermeyer. "What the hell is this garbage? Polo? What happened to hockey?" When his son-in-law Dan Nielson tried to explain that there were a number of offseason rule changes put in place by the NHL to increase scoring, Habermeyer slammed down the legs of his Barcalounger and shoved a finger in Nielson's face. "I'll tell you what the problem is," Habermeyer shot back. "It's your generation. A bunch of showboaters. No one willing to do the hard work. No one willing to play defense. Patrick Kane? That's just a child wearing skates carrying around a big stick. When things get hard he'll just shut down the government. Not like Bobby Hull. Now there was a real man. Don't look at your phone when we're having a heart-to heart conversation!" But Nielson didn't look up from his phone, as he was texting his wife, Bridget, to say that she owed him more than one for spending the evening bonding with her father, and also to ask what Patrick Kane had to do with the government shutdown.
Pittsburgh's battery of Francisco Liriano and Russell Martin made sure the Pirates' first postseason trip in 21 years would not be a one-game affair, as they topped the Cincinnati Reds, 6-2, in the NL wild-card playoff. "I just keep thinking, What could I have done differently?" said Reds manager Dusty Baker after the game. Baker then took a moment to think back over the events of the game, during which he managed to use seven pitchers without deploying superstar closer Aroldis Chapman, before adding, "And the answer is nothing."
It’s been 22 years since Pittsburgh hosted a winner-take-all baseball game. The most striking thing about that 1991 Game 7 against Atlanta wasn’t the result; it was the audience, or lack thereof, there to witness it. Paid attendance was 11,000 fans shy of a sellout at old Three Rivers Stadium, and the camera views of entire swaths of empty seats for a game that would decide the NL pennant were striking. There were extenuating circumstances, certainly. It’s tough to sell out expensive tickets to back-to-back weeknight games on short notice, especially since Three Rivers Stadium could hold nearly 58,000 fans, a larger seating capacity than any MLB stadium in use today. Maybe Pirates fans were even jaded (!) from hosting their seventh playoff game in 13 months.
Whatever the reasons, they no longer apply. Tonight the Pirates, fresh off their first winning season since the first George Bush was president, will host their first playoff game at cozy PNC Park, one of the most beautiful places to witness a baseball game. And it will be a sellout.
The Pirates host the Cincinnati Reds, to whom they lost the NLCS in 1990, and these are two teams that arrived at this point from very different directions. The Reds are supposed to be here; if anything, this season is a disappointment in that they failed to win the NL Central and had to settle for the wild-card game. This is their third playoff spot (and third 90-win season) in the last four years. They rank third in the NL in runs scored and fourth in runs allowed. They are a good team having a good season.
The Pirates, by contrast, have been trying to build toward this season ever since Sid Bream crossed home plate. With their third general manager, seventh manager, and umpteenth rebuilding plan since then, they finally got it right, even though watching the Pirates try to break through the .500 barrier the last few years was a little bit like watching X-1 test pilots try to break through the sound barrier before Chuck Yeager came along.
The biggest decision made by a coach during Week 4 was covered in the Monday football recap, but there are still plenty of coaching decisions to cover in today's Thank You for Not Coaching. As always, let's start with the bright side of the ledger
The Best Decisions of Week 4
3. Marc Trestman goes for two down 40-22. It's heartening to see a coach properly execute one of the obvious go-for-two scenarios, even as Brian Billick talked over the decision as one that "isn't on the chart." It should be if it isn't. Trestman's decision even took the Lions by surprise, which forced them to burn a timeout to get the right defenders on the field. And, as it turned out, making the correct decision actually did open up a slim window for the Bears that wouldn't have otherwise existed; the Bears made the two-pointer here to make it 40-24, then made it again on the next touchdown drive to produce a 40-32 score, which gave them an opportunity to recover an expected onside kick in an attempt to get one final drive to tie the game. Had they kicked an extra point here, they couldn't have been within one score after that second touchdown and wouldn't have had even an opportunity to tie.
It's the last weekend of the regular season, which means it's also the last MLB Weekend Top 10. That would be sad, in its way, if I weren't just drowning in Coca-Cola right now. I don't have any emotions except alert, and so I can't write a proper eulogy for the Top 10 until this tremendous wave of energy has crested and fizzled, at which point it will be too late. However, I can damn well make a list that correctly counts down from 10 to one. It's my main ability, and I'd like to exercise it now as we search for whatever bits of drama remain in an underwhelming playoff race.
10. The Last Champagne Party (CHC-STL)
Do you think the Cardinals waited to clinch the division until the last series on purpose, just so they could celebrate in front of the Cubs and really rub it in? I, for one, hope so. I also hope they invite Steve Bartman to the game and let him throw out the first pitch.