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American institution that was built by baseball's kings (Ruth, Mantle, Koufax)
and dynasties (Murderers' Row, the Swingin' A's, the Big Red Machine), the
World Series of the wild-card era is the pull of a slot-machine lever, a game
of chance ignorant of form. Regularly populated now with second-place clubs or
flavor-of-the-month teams more than dominant regular-season franchises, the
Series is where unpredictability, not greatness, reigns. And with this 102nd
edition, a very unexpected, unconventional and at times unholy series, the Fall
Classic fell even deeper down the rabbit's hole.
It took only two games--with the wins split between the two teams, of course--to establish that this World Series will mock convention and even, if you wanted to know the dirty little truth about Game 2, insult your sense of reason. The CliffsNotes version goes like this:
Game 1: The first matchup of rookie pitchers to open a World Series was won convincingly, 7--2, last Saturday by the least accomplished Game 1 starter in history--25-year-old St. Louis righthander Anthony Reyes, he of the flat-brimmed cap, candy-striped socks, 5--8 record (fewest wins ever by a Game 1 starter) and 5.06 ERA (second-worst mark). Naturally, now that down is up and up is down in the World Series, Reyes pitched into the ninth inning for the first time in his major league career.
Game 2: A matchup of the most itinerant pitchers in World Series history ( Cardinals righty Jeff Weaver and Tigers lefty Kenny Rogers, who have played for 11 teams combined) is won convincingly, 3--1, on Sunday by the 41-year-old Rogers, the oldest starter ever to win a Series game.
What lingered in the wake of Rogers's eight shutout innings was equally bizarre--the possibility that he might have cheated. Fox television cameras showed Rogers had a large, clearly visible patch of a yellow-brown substance near the base of his left thumb while pitching the first inning. It was gone by the second inning, though there was some residual discoloration.
After the game Rogers's explanation for what happened was more baffling than one of his famous curveballs. He called the substance "a big clump of dirt" that had collected on his hand while rubbing up a baseball during his pregame warmup in the bullpen and remained stuck there through an 18-pitch first inning--all, he insisted, without his being aware of it. When a reporter suggested to Rogers that it was difficult to believe that a pitcher, especially one who relies so considerably on touch, would not notice a big clump of dirt on his pitching hand for such a prolonged period, Rogers replied, "Do you think I'm a genius out there? I'm not. Once I noticed it, it was off. There are a lot of ways to get dirty hands out there."
The Cardinals had their own explanation. A few of them, including utilityman Scott Spiezio, had seen the Fox telecast in the clubhouse and quickly relayed word to the dugout that Rogers might be using pine tar to improve his grip, a violation of Rule 8.02 that warrants an automatic ejection and 10-day suspension for applying a foreign substance to a ball. "Especially on a cold day, it improves your grip," said St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan after Game 2, which was played in a sub-40� chill. "And anytime you get a better grip, you can increase the velocity of the ball or the spin."
With Rogers caught brown-handed by the camera, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa needed only to ask the umpires to examine Rogers's left hand, a move that could have altered the course of the World Series. If the substance had, indeed, been an illegal one, the Tigers, already down 1--0 in the Series, would have lost their hottest pitcher in the first inning of Game 2 with St. Louis's best starters, Chris Carpenter and Jeff Suppan, scheduled to pitch Games 3 and 4 at home.
La Russa, though, never asked the umpires to inspect Rogers's hand. Why? He wasn't saying. "It's not important to talk about," he snapped afterward.
Duncan offered one possible explanation: "If you want to be a [jerk] about it, you can" ask the umpires to check the pitcher, a suggestion that an accusation of cheating is outside the protocol of managing, even when cheating is suspected. (On the other hand, in a regular-season game last year, Nationals manager Frank Robinson asked umpires to check the glove of Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly, much to the anger of Los Angeles manager Mike Scioscia. Umpires found pine tar, and Donnelly was ejected and eventually suspended.)