Congratulations to the Chicago White Sox…2005 World Series Champs in a sweep!
We didn’t get any complete games and only Game 4, which ended 1-0 can be called a pitcher’s duel in the traditional sense. But all four games were close and Game 3 went 14 innings, so there was some tremendous pitching in the Series. The Houston Astros would certainly subscribe to the "Good Pitching Stops Good Hitting" theory, given the inability of their hitters to come up with key RBIs. The Series was a sweep, but not a landslide. The Astros could have won any or all of those games. We could have had a 7-Game series, or a sweep the other way.
I like offense, so this was a great series for me. In fact, there was something for everyone except those who wanted to see a Houston victory. Final scores of 5-3, 7-6, and 7-5 (in 14 innings), indicated both runs scored and the drama of close games. Add in the 1-0 game where both starting pitchers threw shutouts for 7 innings and you have no game ending with a lead bigger than two runs. There was one big comeback, when the Sox came back from being down 4-0 to take the lead 5-4 in the 5th inning of Game 3, the longest game by time (5 hours and 41 minutes) in Series history.
The World Series was a team effort on both sides, especially when Chicago and Houston emptied their benches in their efforts to win Game 3. Just as we had seen Roger Clemens pitch relief in Houston’s18-inning win against Atlanta in the NLDS, Chicago starter Mark Buehrle pitched to one batter to get the save in Game 3. And, much to my delight, we saw reserves (especially Geoff Blum and Willie Harris of the White Sox) making important contributions to their teams.
The Astros had their moments. The one that stands out in my mind, besides Backe’s 7 scoreless innings, was the sparkling double play they turned just before Blum’s homer. And Jeff Bagwell, who worked so hard to rehab in time to get back this year, got to be the DH in the games in Chicago. Good to see him in there. (Too bad White Sox DH Frank Thomas’ injury was beyond healing in time). But Houston, ditch the hill in center field, please! I know each ballpark has its idiosyncrasies, but a hill in center field is a gimmick. Level the playing field…literally!
Too bad so many people missed the Series. Various news outlets are reporting that this World Series had the lowest TV ratings in history, fulfilling a prediction made on one of our local TV sports segments in the San Francisco Bay Area. A note to you casual fans who generally watch only the playoffs and the Series: Is it really not an "official" World Series unless the Yankees, Red Sox, or Dodgers are in it? Yes, here was a World Series featuring two Midwestern teams, one of which had not been in a Series since 1959 and another that had never been there. So what? Yo, Midwest, where were you? Did you really prefer reruns, or soon-to-be reruns, to a live, unique event?
Down the Left Field Line: Life, Baseball & Eric Byrnes won’t hibernate for six months. But the activity will have to slow down a little, at least for a while. Not because of lack of ideas for articles: I’ve got a list of Byrnes-and non-Byrnes-related potential stories hung up on my corkboard. (For example, the San Francisco stadium is going to change names yet again…Sheesh!)
But since I’m not a sports writer—woe is me–I have to go back to reporting my bread and butter stories, like Peak Oil and Global Warming, etc., even though I would much rather be contemplating ways for Eric Byrnes to attack change-ups low and away. Actually, my article on Byrnes’ batting stance is nearly done, so that will be one of the first Hot Stove League pieces I’ll have out. What I am trying to say is that I would much rather write about Eric Byrnes than about what’s going on in the non-baseball world any day of the week.
One of the reasons I enjoy writing the Byrnesblog is that I am becoming part of a baseball-loving community that looks out for its members. For example, the author of Some Ballyard alerted me to Eric’s being on ESPN radio the other night. I was working, and couldn’t listen, but he listened for me, and I appreciated the heads-up. I send alerts to Red Sox Chick about news concerning Timlin, Millar and other Red Sox. Daryl of Daryl’s Place and I occasionally ruminate on what the Orioles are doing to have a better 2006. If they make the big mistake of letting go of Byrnesie, they will go back to just being another team in the American League to me—my loyalties go where Byrnes goes–but now I will always be interested in what Daryl and his baseball-savvy wife, Ginger, are up to.
It’s been great to meet a bunch of baseball-savvy women here. (An article about women and baseball is on the cork-board list). The authors of White Sox Nation, Pinstripe Nation, Long Live 1984!, Diamonds are for Humor, and Redbird Fever are among the women who blog here. I look forward to meeting more of them in 2006.
Well, I shouldn’t be writing like I’m not going to be back for 6 months. I’ll likely be back in 6 days. (I’m on deadline for another energy story). Still, with the World Series over, it is the end of a year. So let me wind this up with a dozen things I would like to see in 2006 besides seemingly impossible stuff like peace on earth:
- Eric Byrnes to have his breakout year. That 30-30, .300+ batting average, 100+ runs-scored, 100+ RBI, lead-the-league-in-doubles, All-Star, Gold Glove, lead-his-team-into-the-playoffs kind of year I know he’s got in him. The one that is just the first year of his truly fulfilling his potential as a major league baseball player until the natural end of his career or until the collapse of fossil fuel-based industrialized civilization, whichever comes first.
- Eric Byrnes to read my blog and enjoy it. And to let me know that he does. (Of course, if this were to happen, you would not know). He doesn’t come across as the type of person who sits in front of a computer, or anything else, for long. But it would be nice if he read the Byrnesblog now and again.
- Hey, MLB.com, there are some of us here—I’m one of them—ready to put your countdown clock about when pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training on our blogs, NOW! Can you arrange that for us? We need something to get us through the long baseball-less nights to come.
- Indiana University to go far in the NCAA tournament next March. (Yeah, I confess, I like other sports besides baseball. And I went to IU).
- Billy Beane and all his protégés in MLB to take their Moneyballs and go home.
- Owners to understand that winning is not bound up in being either penurious or extravagant.
- Baseball players to be wealthy without being greedy. And to remember, as Eric Byrnes always does, to give their best to the fans who are paying to watch them.
- Another year of tight races that go down to the wire.
- The understanding, on all sides, that while baseball is a business, it isn’t just another business.
- More complete games.
- More MLBlogging with a lot of terrific people.
- More time to read some good baseball books.
‘Til later. And a good Hot Stove League season to us all!
The Chicago White Sox have won the American League pennant for the first time since 1959. But they did it pretty much without the guy who has been the heart and soul of the team for many years: Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas. He played just 34 games in 2005,sandwiched between two breaks of his left ankle. In all likelihood, his career is over.
I saw the 9th of the 12 homers he hit this year. (Think about it, 12 homers in 34 games. That’s pretty impressive!) It came July 3 at the Oakland Coliseum. Thomas sent a pitch by Barry Zito, the southpaw ace of the Oakland A’s, into the left field bleachers to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead in the 4th. It wasn’t to be one of those times when a Thomas homer put the White Sox in the win column; the A’s won 7-2.
It was a fine day for the man who’s presence in the lineup explained my presence in the stands. Eric Byrnes went 2 for 3 with a walk and two runs scored. That "other" AB was a comebacker to the pitcher that was supposed to be a double play. But Buerhle threw the ball into center field and the A’s had runners on 2nd and 3rd. The Athletics have some sort of mojo going against the White Sox at the Coliseum.
But A’s mojo or not, The Big Hurt hit a bomb. Byrnesie took two steps back and then just watched the ball sail into the seats. And I realized in that moment that I had seen one of the last homers hit by one of the greats. Whoever it was that threw the ball back onto the field was a fool. And so were the others in the left field bleachers who loudly chanted "let him stay, let him stay" when security removed the fool. Catching any ball is special. Catching one hit by a two-time MVP is extra special, especially when you know he might not have too many left in him.
I am sure the ChiSox will take care of "The Big Hurt" this winter in terms of both bling and money. But it’s one of the cruelties of life and sports that the team finally gets to the World Series the year their DH is on the DL.
At long last, this abysmal, aberrant year is over! This year that started with you knowing that your organization didn’t want you anymore, even though you’d just come off a career year offensively. This year, the middle of which saw you playing for 4 managers, 3 teams, and 2 leagues over the course of a month. This year, the end of which saw you enduring some stupid heckler in Tampa Bay, a town that can barely support its own team.
IT’S FINALLY OVER!
This offseason, when you are home with your family and friends, with all the people who love you no matter what your batting average is, when you visit your favorite burger joint, and other familiar haunts, when you settle into the bed you did not get to sleep in but for two days after the All-Star Break, relax! Forget about baseball for at least a week or two; give your body and spirit a time to rest and heal.
Then look back on 2005 from this point of view: just as nothing is totally good, nothing is totally bad, either. Even this abysmal, aberrant year had its moments. Just off the top of my head I can think of the time you almost hit for the cycle in Oakland. There was every hit you got off a right-hander, even though the book on you is that you can’t hit righties. (Tell that to Jon Garland; you doubled off him just before he went to the All-Star Game, and then singled off the ChiSox righty reliever Politte in the same game). There was the three-hit day in Denver that pushed your average over .270. There was July 31st, my birthday, when you went 3-5 with a homer. And exactly a month later, you went 2-4, including a tremendous two-run homer off a curveball thrown by a righty in an away game. (Propaganda is you can’t do that!)
There was every successful diving catch, and every time you crashed into a wall, but held on to the ball. (And the game against the Giants during interleague play when you gave us one of each type of catch. I was there!) There were all the plays you made when the game was out of reach, because you always care, no matter the score.
There were 7 successful steals. There was a bunt single to the disbelieving Eric Chavez. Both were significant because stealing and bunting are discouraged in Oakland. In the last week of the season, you doubled off Boomer Wells. The Tampa Bay Heckler couldn’t do that in his dreams. Consider that in this abysmal, aberrant year, you had as many homers as Johnny Damon, who had a fine year. And that the percentage of your hits that went for extra bases was nearly 40% (.398). That’s better than Damon (.259), Renteria (.279), and Kotsay (.313) and just below Chavez (.404). You had as many triples (3) as Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui. He played every game this season.
Save those positives from this abysmal, aberrant year as reminders that when things are at their worst, you are still capable of good work. To use a metaphor that suits the Northern Californian you are, sift those flecks of gold from the dirt, then let the dirt wash away in the river of time. When you have retrieved that gold, put the 2005 season behind you with some sort of ritual.
I saw Miggy Tejada give his batting gloves to a small child wearing a Tejada t-shirt in Tampa today. Maybe you have some young fans who would take wristbands, batting gloves, and even bats. I once met a woman who said her family’s New Year’s Eve ritual was to buy a set of new clothes, and then just before midnight, change clothes, so that they began the new year wearing new garments. Giving away items from last year is like that. Start new.
Another possibility is to write down everything that was bad for you this season and then burn the paper. (In the sink or the BBQ, so you don’t burn your house down!) Oct. 31 is a great day to do that sort of thing. It’s Wiccan New Year.
Figure out whatever feels right to you, and then do it so you can consciously close the book on 2005. You can get family and friends to join you, or you can do it alone. I’m not sure what I’m going to do yet, but I’m leaning to making a calendar of the 2005 baseball season with some software I have, writing "Eric Byrnes’ absymal, aberrant year" on it, and then tearing it up and burning it. (Since I’m Wiccan, I’ll do it on the 31st).
When you have closed out 2005 emotionally, you will be ready to start on 2006. The worst is over. Like I’ve said in another post, you can’t be Comeback Player of the Year unless you have something to come back from.
Yes, it was an awful year for you, and for everyone who cares about you and was watching you struggle. Nonetheless, thank you, Eric Byrnes. Thank you for always hustling on the basepaths, for never assuming that the opposition will catch that routine fly, or field that grounder cleanly, or make that throw on the mark.
Thank you for the throw home that cut down the potential 11th run in a game in which the Angels beat your Orioles 10 to 1. Thank you for making the diving catch even though it was late in a game in which the Yankees were beating the Birds 11 to 0. Thank you for all the diving catches, and for never being afraid of the wall.
Thank you even for your distress after you fouled out in your last at-bat of the season. (Yeah, the TV camera picked up on you pacing the dugout). Weeks after other guys whose teams were out of the playoffs started mailing it in, you still cared. This is your authentic self, and it withstood a harsh test this year. That’s why you are such an inspiration to me. You remain who you are–Eric Byrnes, the guy who gives his all–no matter what the circumstances. I can’t say I have that quality. Most of us don’t. You do, and the world would be a better place if more of us did.
See you in the spring!
To a much better 2006!
Radio Internet Story Exchange
(P.S. The picture of you catching the ball was taken in Fenway Park on September 4, 2005 by Cyn "Red Sox Chick" Donnelly. I chose it for this article because catching the ball is an act of completion).
Some people were talking about you over at The Red Sox Chick’s blog a few weeks ago, but I stayed out of it. I had never heard you or heard of you.
Well, I sure heard you this weekend when the target of your derision was Eric Byrnes: THE Eric Byrnes who inspired me to start my blog. You were so loud in the dome that the announcers commented on it, as in how you must be distracting your own pitcher, and how you must not care what the score is. (Today you were shouting insults at Byrnes as the Orioles were well on their way to sweeping the Devil Rays. Baltimore finished ahead of Tampa Bay in the standings. And, BTW, I just so enjoyed watching Byrnes homer off Scott Kazmir when the Rays visited Camden Yards in early August).
Now, if you had simply booed Byrnes, or cheered his outs, I would have thought nothing of it. I am not one of those extremely polite fans who don’t believe in ever booing players. In fact, I think there are times when booing is appropriate to a ritualistic degree. For example, whenever I go to the ballpark, I always boo the announcement of the opposition’s starting lineup. I boo the introduction of the umpires. I boo, or rather, I make chicken-clucking noises when the opposition issues an intentional walk. And I believe, as Barry Bonds recently observed, that booing a star of the opposition can be seen as a sign of respect, because "they know you’re coming to get ‘em."
But I kept hearing "Eric, you S**K!" from you. And it made me sorry I wasn’t there myself to put my ten years of voice training into shouting you the h*ll down this weekend.
Tampa Bay Heckler, what’s your point? Without a doubt, Eric Byrnes has had an abysmal year. Does kicking a guy when he’s down make you feel somehow superior? If so, why? I have his line for the year in front of me. He only had 93 hits. But I’d bet that’s 93 more than you could get. Notice who was heckling in the stands and who was at the plate this weekend. Or do you just like being talked about, albeit negatively, by strangers coast-to-coast?
If it’s the latter, then your wish has been fulfilled. You’ve been mentioned on TV and on the Internet. You got a rise out of the Eric Byrnes blogger in Oakland. But now I think that maybe there was a little karmic payback for your boorish behavior in Hollins throwing Byrnes’ fly ball into the stands with only two out, an error that allowed what proved to be the Orioles winning run to score on Saturday.
Fortune favors the brave…and teams that can count to 3.
Radio Internet Story Exchange
September 26, 2005–It was a long and soggy night.
There was a remnants-of-Rita rain delay to the start. (That caused a postponement of the the Blue Jays-Red Sox game). And there was another rain delay in the first. But finally, the Yanks and O’s got it on and got it done, much to the dismay of the Red Sox, as the Yanks won 11-3.
I personally wanted to see the Yanks rained out also, just to level the playing field, so to speak. Now the Red Sox have to play a double header on Tuesday, while the Yankees don’t. And the planned Saturday Johnson-Schilling matchup won’t happen. Boo-hoo!
As for the game itself? You know by now that I endure endless Orioles miscues for the sake of one player: Eric Byrnes. And tonight he had a good night: A BB with a steal of second, a two-out RBI single, and one of his signature diving catches.
Too bad he was not driven in either time he was on base. I want Byrnes to have RBIs AND runs scored. Go ahead. Call me greedy, but that’s just the way I am.
And while it was a good day, it COULD have been a GREAT day. First time up, 2nd inning, Byrnes swung at ball four, flying out to center. That ended the inning, stranding on first a guy who would have advanced to second with a walk.
In the 7th, often his best inning, Byrnes popped out to first, again making the last out of the frame. In both instances, there was too much uppercut in his swing! Byrnesie, it’s baseball, not golf!
But I’m very happy to see a walk, a stolen base, the signature diving catch, and an RBI single coming with two out in the 9th. In other words, Byrnes was NOT the last out of the game, he kept the rally going!
And yesterday he doubled off Boomer Wells! Perhaps this abysmal, aberrant season will end on a positive note for Byrnes after all.
I sure hope so!
Radio Internet Story Exchange
September 25, 2005–Eric Byrnes doubled off Boomer Wells in, you guessed it, the 7th inning of today’s 9-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Byrnesie had been 0-37 up until that point, so I was thrilled to see a hit. He scored the Orioles’ third run when Walter Young drove him in with a two out, pinch-hit single. I wish the run scored meant something beyond a personal stat. But it’s hard to stay in the game when you spot the Red Sox 5 runs in the top of the first and don’t stop the bleeding there. And I’ll take an Eric Byrnes run scored no matter when it happens or what the margin of victory or defeat is.
My thanks to Walter Young for batting him in. Yesterday, Byrnes was a pinch runner and was left on 2nd base. I would be just fine financially this year if someone gave me $100 for every guy the O’s have left on base just since Byrnes joined them on July 30th.
But the part of me that was happy to see Byrnes hit his 24th double of the year, and off a star like Boomer no less, had to hear it from the part of me that has been watching Byrnes like a hawk, courtesy of MLB.TV, since he got to Baltimore and not liking what she’s seeing. He had an 11-game hitting streak when he first joined the Birds, but since then it’s been crash and burn for "Crash" Byrnes. I’m looking for explanations for these long slumps. Yeah, I know he’s always been streaky, but this is ridiculous.
But I digress…
Let me give the analyst her say. I’m not Virgo Rising for nothing.
Byrnes lined the ball into left center, over the head of shortstop Edgar Renteria. With his speed, he was thinking double all the way. In fact, he was running so hard, I’m sure that heading to third crossed his mind, especially after center fielder Johnny Damon overran the ball a little.
Byrnes swung at a ball, low and away. It was closer to the plate than the one he let go for a ball on the pitch before the double, but it was off the plate nonetheless. The good thing about this hit, the thing that made it a hit instead of consecutive out number 38, was that he got down to where it was and hit it with a level swing. Byrnes is a natural line drive hitter. In his first two at-bats, he popped to short and popped foul to third. I made note of the big uppercuts in his swing in my Eric Byrnes Pitch Count Report. The double was level. A level swing does not guarantee a base hit, but for a natural line drive hitter, it helps.
However, a level swing does not solve all of his hitting problems. The biggest of the several problems I see is his footwork. When Byrnes is not wrong-footed, off-balance and/or swinging out of his shoes, he swings as if his feet are shackled together and don’t have much room to move. Thus it was with this double. He steps forward when he swings, but he doesn’t step INTO the pitches enough, especially these outside pitches that are the most favored way of getting him out. (In fact, I think that’s why outside pitches are the most favored way of getting him out). When he just steps forward, rather than stepping into the pitch, he ends up lunging after the pitch instead of using his legs to put power behind his swing. Lunge after pitches regularly and you’ll get a hit about once every 38 times.
I see a number of mechanical flaws in Byrnes’ stance. I wish Byrnesie could see it for himself; viewing film would help. But if we could all see our own flaws, on and off work, we wouldn’t need managers, coaches and other advisors, would we? Everything that’s wrong with his stance now is fixable if someone would notice. After all, this is the guy who had 20 homers, 39 doubles, 73 RBI and a .283 average last year.
But over time, bad habits can creep in. I remember that many years ago I read a biography of Joe DiMaggio. (Biography is my favorite genre of literature). The one thing I remember about it was that it talked about a slump Joe D was in. He couldn’t figure out what was wrong until his first wife noticed that the "5" on his back appeared to be in a different place after he swung than it usually was. After Joe verified his wife’s observation by looking at movie reels, he saw that his mechanics had subtly changed and he set about returning to his usual form. Once that happened, he was back to being Joltin’ Joe. If Joe DiMaggio could develop a mechanical flaw, so could any hitter.
But, as Boston announcer Jerry (Remdawg) Remy said today, the Orioles have the look of a team that just wants the season to be over. So maybe no one is noticing what’s ailing Byrnes. Or perhaps they have already made up their minds about him, which is what I read into their starting David Newhan in left a few days ago. Newhan was batting .211 to start that game.
I am glad this season is over in a week. Byrnes needs some time to rest, some time to think, and some time to re-work his mechanics. He also needs a team that isn’t going to give up on him after just half of a very weird season.
What I did instead of blogging last week
The Orioles have just defeated the Devil Rays 2-1. Bruce Chen was lights out for 7 innings, but the Orioles kept leaving runners on base. They left a total of 13 this day. This game really should have been a blowout win for them. But, hey, the rules say all you need is one more run than the other team to pick up the win. The Birds will take this one.
In the 6th inning, Alejandro Freire singled. Ed Rogers was sent in to pinch run, and Byrnesie was asked to lay down a sac bunt. Daryl, I know you don’t like sac bunts, but I think this is better than pinch-hitting for Byrnes and having the pinch-hitter be out, like yesterday, like several times lately, like a time against the Chisox, on a day he had homered, just before the A’s traded him. But I digress…
Today, in the 6th, Byrnesie bunted, advancing Rogers to second. This was good. Remember that Byrnes is just now adding the bunt to his tool box. Problem was that @*!($#&@^$ Rogers got caught stealing third on a play the announcers said must have been anticipated by the Rays. The Birds eventually loaded the bases but scored no one. I was beginning to think Byrnesie must feel snake bit; that if he has something to do with the play, it falls apart.
Well, the anti-venom came out in the 8th! Bernie Castro pinch-hit for Rogers and hit a single. Byrnes was again asked to bunt, but the RIGHT-HANDED Borowski kept throwing balls. On the third ball, Castro took off and stole second. That’s now 5/5 steals as an Oriole for this September call-up. Byrnesie took a strike, without showing bunt. Then he sac-bunted Castro to third. Matos batted in Castro. Ryan closed the door on the Rays in the top of the 9th. Put this one in the win column for the O’s! Sometimes small ball works, Daryl.
These bunts have to be a lift for Byrnesie, who proved himself capable of helping the team win even though he’s still in that wretched slump. (He had a fly out and a line out in his first two plate appearances). I guess I was a little too early in declaring the slump over when he doubled and homered on Aug. 31st. That was like a short rally in a bear market.
Byrnes bunted for a single when the A’s were last at Camden; he eventually scored that inning. Today he sacrificed successfully twice; the second bunt put the eventual winning run on third. Pretty good for a guy who came up through an organization that doesn’t believe in bunting. (I’m going to have to amend my new philsophy of life to include successful sacrifices that lead to runs scored. I’ve been in good mood since that happened).
A few days ago, the Baltimore announcers said that if Byrnes could bunt for a single twice a week, it would add 50 points to his batting average over the course of a full season. They were talking about what two extra singles a week would do for Byrnes’ batting average. But bunting for base hits twice a week would probably do more than that because the bunt possibility would keep the third baseman from playing too deep, which means that a line drive that might otherwise be caught, could go over the third baseman’s head for a double down the left field line.
Byrnesie obviously still has to solve the problems that are causing the protracted slump. He’s lost 50 points off the 2004 year-end batting average. More on those problems in an article I’ve got cooking. (My working on that article is one of the reasons I don’t have his weekly stats right now).
Don’t give up on Eric Byrnes, Orioles! He’s always willing to do what it takes to win. You saw that today.
(The photo on this post of Byrnesie bunting is the 8th inning bunt and was taken by Kenji Takabayashi/MLB.com).
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