MITCH MORELAND – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero For October 30

 (Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News) 10312010xSPORTS

(Louis DeLuca/The Dallas Morning News)

When the 2010’s began, the World Series was a match up against two franchises not known for their October magic. The Giants had not won it all since 1954, when they called New York their home. The Rangers had only won one post season GAME going into 2010.

The Giants took control of the 2010 World Series early, but it was rookie Mitch Moreland’s bat that gave the Rangers life.

Texas won 14 of 15 in June to storm into first place. And unlike a lot of previous Rangers squads, Ron Washington’s team did not fade in the Lone Star State heat. Josh Hamilton and Michael Young provided the offense and Cliff Lee was picked up in midseason to boost the rotation.

Then in October, the confronted many of their post season demons. First they ended their 9 game playoff losing streak. They eliminated a tough Tampa Bay team to advance to their first ever ALCS. There they faced their nemesis, the Yankee. 6 games later, Hamilton and company eliminated the defending World Champs and finally went to the World Series.

But the Giants took the first two games and the Rangers returned to Arlington in a hole. The Giants pitching was dominant after upsetting the Phillies. Tim Lincecum got off to a rocky start in Game 1 but settled down to win it. Matt Cain dominated Game 2.

Game 3 pitted Colby Lewis and Jonathan Sanchez. The Giants deep bullpen was rested and the Rangers knew they had to get to Sanchez early to have a shot to make the world Series competitive.

The inconsistent left hander pitched around a single in the first and retired Elvis Andrus, Josh Hamilton and Vlad Guerrero.

In the bottom of the second, the Rangers got a lead off double from Nelson Cruz but it looked like it would go to waste when Ian Kinsler and Jeff Francoeur grounded out. After a walk to Bengie Molina, the Rangers sent up their number 9 hitter, Mitch Moreland.

Moreland was a 24 year old rookie who played only 47 games for the Rangers in 2010. The only reason he was the every day first baseman was because highly touted prospect Justin Smoak was sent packing to Seattle in the Cliff Lee deal. Moreland’s solid season in minor league Oklahoma City earned him a spot. Normally first base would be the spot for a slugging veteran. But Ron Washington trusted Moreland with the job.

He rewarded his manager with a .389 average in the ALCS. He was 3 for 5 over the first two World Series games. So clearly, he was not a typical number 9 hitter.

With the count 2 and 2 and Sanchez a pitch away from getting out of another inning, Moreland fouled off pitch after pitch. On the 9th pitch of the at bat, he lined it into the right field stands. The Rangers were up 3-0.

They added a fourth run and then hung on as a Giants comeback fell short and the Rangers won 4-2.

It would be Texas’ final hour as the Giants used Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Brian Wilson to shut down their mighty attack and take the series in 5. But with one hard fought for at bat, the Rangers had hope in the series. It was a moment lost in the end results of the series but not lost on this author.

That makes him the Unsung Post Season Hero of October 30.

A. J. BURNETT – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero of October 29

Generated by IJG JPEG Library - William Perlman/The Star-Ledger

Generated by IJG JPEG Library – William Perlman/The Star-Ledger

OCTOBER 29, 2009 – World Series Game 2

The Yankees have a reputation of signing big name free agents and piling up World Series titles. But save for one season, the Yankees have fallen short of the title every year since 2000. And many of the big contracts have disappointed in the long run.

The Bronx Bombers almost found themselves in a giant hole in the 2009 World Series. But they were rescued by A. J. Burnett, a pitcher who save for that game looked like the personification of a bad signing.

Going into 2009, the mighty Yankees had not won a single post season series since the Red Sox stunned them in the 2004 ALCS. With Joe Torre gone to LA, the Yankees missed the post season altogether in the final year of Yankee Stadium and the first season for manager Joe Girardi.

With owner George Steinbrenner’s health failing, the team spent big and abandoned the patient “develop the pitching staff” approach from 2007 and 2008. In came sluggers Mark Teixeira and Nick Swisher as well as Cy Young contender CC Sabathia. Burnett was also acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays and the fortified Yankees were ready.

After a slow start, the Yankees clicked and won the Division with 103 wins and swept Minnesota in the Division Series, getting the monkey off of their back and advancing in the post season.

The Angels challenged the Yankees but in the end, it was an old fashioned Northeast World Series between New York and Philadelphia.

A pair of former Indian Cy Young Award winners faced off in the opener. Cliff Lee topped Sabathia and the defending World Champion Phillies had a 1-0 lead. Pedro Martinez was ready to go in Game 2. The future Hall of Famer was a shell of his former self, but the potent Philadelphia lineup seemed poised to jump all over Burnett.

The free agent pick up did not have a bad year but he had a disastrous August that was fresh on Yankee fans’ mind. So was the thrashing he endured by the Angels in Game 5 of the ALCS.

With the specter of a 2-0 hole going back to Philadelphia and at least one more Cliff Lee start, the pressure on Burnett was intense.

A ground rule double by Raul Ibanez and an infield hit by Matt Stairs put the Yankees in an early 1-0 second inning hole. Pedro made it through 3 inning unscathed before allowing a game tying homer to Teixiera.

The Phillies would get on base against Burnett but could not cash in the runners. Jayson Werth was picked off one inning. Ryan Howard struck out with runners in scoring position in another.

In the sixth, Burnett faced the mighty heart of the Phillies order and got Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jayson Werth in order.

When eventual series MVP Hideki Matsui homered with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 6th, the Yankees finally had a lead.

In the 7th, Burnett once again got the Phillies in order, getting Pedro Feliz to ground out to end the inning. He had gone 7 innings, 4 hits, 1 run and 9 strikeouts. Eventually the Yankees gave Mariano Rivera an insurance run and the series was tied heading to Philadelphia.

The Yankees took a pair of wild games before Burnett got his chance to close out the World Series in 5. His luck ran out as he could not record an out in the third and the Phillies sent the series back to New York where the Yankees won in 6.

The rest of Burnett’s time in New York was rough. A pair of season where his ERA spiked above 5 saddled him with a “Free Agent Bust” label. Eventually he was dumped by the Yankees who picked up his salary while he played (and had success) in Pittsburgh.

But anyone who tries to totally dismiss Burnett’s time in New York needs to admit one fact: Had he not won Game 2, the Yankees were probably going to lose the World Series.

They have not even played in a World Series since, let alone win one. Imagine a world where the Red Sox had won 3 World Series since the last Yankees title. That almost happened.

And for that reason, A. J. Burnett is the unsung post season hero of October 29.

TODD BURNS – Sully Baseball Unsung Post Season Hero for October 28



OCTOBER 28, 1989 – World Series Game 4

The Bay Area had been wanting to see an Oakland A’s versus San Francisco Giants World Series since the Athletics arrived in the East Bay in 1968. When they finally faced off in 1989, the region was buzzing. I was a senior in High School living in Palo Alto and witnessed the palpable excitement for the match up nicknamed “The Bay Bridge Series.”

Little did any of us know that the Bay Bridge would become the symbol of the 1989 World Series for reasons nobody wanted. The earthquake hit the region moments before the first pitch of Game 3. By the time the World Series resumed 10 days later, there was little enthusiasm for it and virtually compelling or exciting played on the field.

The one time the Giants put up a fight against the mighty A’s, relatively unknown reliever Todd Burns put an end to it.

The series began in Oakland where Dave Stewart tossed a complete game in Game 1. Mike Moore was solid in Game 2 and the A’s held the mighty Giants attack to a single run.

When the series crossed the Bay Bridge to Candlestick Park, the Giants had their best shot to tie the series. Bob Welch and Storm Davis could be hit and there was no way Will Clark, Kevin Mitchell and company could be shutout for much longer.

But the earthquake wiped out the third game and destroyed the upper level of the Bay Bridge. 10 days later play resumed. Dave Stewart pitched game 3 and once again beat the Giants.

Game 4 seemed like the joyless grind to the inevitable. The A’s hadn’t trailed for a single inning and when Rickey Henderson led off the game with a homer, the whole affair felt like a formality.

San Francisco starter Don Robinson got shelled. Reliever Mike LaCoss did not fare much better. By the 6th, the A’s were up 8-0 and the Giants were not even putting up a fight in their first World Series appearance since 1962.

In the 6th, however, the Giants got off of the matt. Kevin Mitchell homered off of Mike Moore. Then in the 7th, San Francisco’s long dormant offense woke up. With Mike Moore out of the game, the usually steady Oakland bullpen became vulnerable. Greg Litton smacked a 2 run homer. Candy Maldonado then tripled. Brett Butler doubled and Robby Thompson singled him home.

Suddenly the tying run was at the plate in the form of Will Clark. While a Giants comeback in the series might have been far fetched, the possibility of the A’s blowing an 8-0 lead was very real.

And with Welch and Davis scheduled to pitch a potential Games 5 and 6, the Giants making the series competitive was stirring in the imagination of the fans at the Stick.

Rick Honeycutt got Will Clark out, but up stepped Kevin Mitchell, the man who would go on to win the 1989 NL MVP.

Oakland A’s manager Tony LaRussa was not about to bring in closer Dennis Eckersley in the 7th. So he turned to Todd Burns.

The 25 year old reliever and spot starter did a little bit of everything for LaRussa. This point he was asked to stuff out any potential San Francisco spark.

With the count 2-2, Mitchell hit a deep drive that for a moment looked like it was about to tie the game. But Rickey Henderson camped right in front of the wall and the rally was stopped.

After the A’s picked up an insurance run in the 8th, Burns came out and threw a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the 8th. Burns did not get the honor of closing out the series. Eckersley pitches a scoreless 9th and the A’s won their title with a muted celebration.

But Game 4 had the lone moment of drama. It was a glimmer of hope that was stopped short, not by one of the team’s many Cy Young contenders but by a pitching Jack of all Trades. That makes Todd Burns the unsung post season hero of October 28.