World Series patterns taking shape
Here are 10 things we've learned about '06 Fall Classic
ST. LOUIS -- Two games does not a World Series make. But as the 102nd Fall Classic plays out over possibly the next six days, we can already divine some patterns.The envelope, please. No. 1. Because of the cold, raw weather, it's not fun playing baseball in Michigan this late in October, unless you're the Detroit Tigers or one of their many fans. The last time the Tigers were in the World Series (1984), Games 4 and 5 were played on Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Tiger Stadium and that gave that series a special feel. It also ended with a Tigers victory on Oct. 14. This year, all the games are at night, starting no earlier than 8 p.m. ET, and the series could end at Comerica Park with Game 7 on Oct. 29. Those 15 days make a big difference as fall is turning to winter in the northern part of our great land. And guess what? Next year the World Series shifts back to a Tuesday start for the first time in 23 years, which means it won't begin until Oct. 23 and could extend as late as Oct. 31. No. 2. Even with that patch of dirt detected on his left hand on Sunday night, Kenny Rogers is obviously a different pitcher this postseason. Here are some of his previous lowlights: He had no postseason victories until this year; playing for the Yankees against the Braves in the 1996 World Series, he had a 22.50 ERA; pitching for the Mets against the Braves in the 1999 National League Championship Series, he issued a walk-off walk that ended the series in favor of the Braves. But this is not your father's Kenny Rogers. Including Sunday night's masterpiece he's now on a roll of 23 scoreless innings in a row for his three postseason starts -- wins against the Yankees in the AL Division Series, the A's in the AL Championship Series, and the Cardinals in the World Series. And he'll get another shot to add to the streak in Game 6 back in Detroit (brrrrr), if the series goes that far. No. 3. Whatever was wrong with Scott Rolen's left shoulder earlier in the playoffs seems to have been resolved. You'll recall that big spat between Rolen and manager Tony La Russa earlier in the playoffs. Rolen said his shoulder was bothering him and he was benched for the clinching Game 4 of the NL Division Series over the Padres. La Russa started him in Game 1 of the NLCS against the Mets, but Rolen was back on the bench for Game 2. It was the tug-of-war between a great manager and a top-flight third baseman. Rolen didn't have much to say. He batted only .091 (1-for-11) in the NLDS and .238 (5-for-21) in the NLCS. Rolen's second-inning home run in the Cards' 7-2 World Series opener on Saturday night was his first of this postseason and his first RBI. Since then, he's put together back-to-back multi-hit games and is batting .500 (4-for-8). That's a far sight better than his 0-for-15 performance against the Red Sox in Boston's 2004 World Series sweep.
No. 4. Pitch to Albert Pujols at your own risk. Conversely, if you keep the Cardinals slugger off base, there's a good chance you might win. Tigers manager Jim Leyland pitched to the right-handed slugger with a runner on second base early in Game 1 and he hit the two-run homer that broke open that game.On Sunday, Pujols went 0-for-4 and the Tigers came back to win the series. It's no coincidence. In the only game the Padres won in the opening round, Pujols was 0-for-4. In the three games the Mets won in the NLCS, Pujols was 2-for-10 (both singles) with no RBIs and no runs scored. Mets manager Willie Randolph even stopped pitching to Pujols in the final two games of that series, walking him intentionally three times. In the 2004 World Series, Pujols was 5-for-15 with no homers and no RBIs. The Cards lost all four games. Get the correlation? No. 5. Tigers rookie right-hander Justin Verlander will acquit himself better in Game 5 than he did in Game 1. On Saturday night, Verlander was trying to shake the rust of 10 days off when he faced the Cards at Comerica Park. That's too long a layoff at this time of the year, particularly as the temperatures plummet. Verlander felt his velocity was down and the Cards feasted on him for seven runs and six hits before he was lifted three batters into the sixth inning. He'll do better at Busch Stadium on Thursday night just because he's back in a regular pattern substantiated by the usual side work. Now that we know the long lag time had an effect on at least one of the young Tiger starters, keep a close watch on Nate Robertson in Game 3 on Tuesday night. By then, the left-hander will have last pitched on Oct. 10, two weeks ago. No. 6. The last two times the World Series was tied at a game apiece, it turned out to be a long series. That was 2002, when the Angels and Giants went to seven games before the Angels won the only World Series title in the history of the franchise. And in 2003, the Marlins defeated the Yankees in six games after splitting the opening two. Not to get too far ahead of ourselves, the "This Time it Counts," formula, which gives the winning league in the All-Star Game home-field advantage in the World Series, hasn't meant much since it was instituted in 2003. The Marlins, after all, won Game 6 at Yankee Stadium that year, and the last two have been sweeps. If this series heads back to Detroit, the Tigers could be the beneficiary of Padres closer Trevor Hoffman's blown save in Pittsburgh this past July that gave the AL home field again for the fourth consecutive World Series. That certainly would give new meaning to the phrase "Trevor Time." No. 7. The Cardinals need some instant psychological testing to deal with their problems against left-handed pitchers. They're 3-3 this postseason in games left-handers have started, but have looked silly at times against Tom Glavine, Darren Oliver, Oliver Perez and Rogers. It might be the type of pitcher as much as the fact that he's left-handed. At this stage of their careers, Glavine and Rogers are pretty similar. Their fastballs are just a setup for all the breaking junk they throw. The Cards are a better dead fastball-hitting team and seem to be thrown off balance by a guy who can nurse the corners of the plate, plus get them to chase marginal pitches. They go in with a game plan to lay off the low or outside stuff and let the pitcher come to them. It worked last week in Game 5 of the NLCS, when they defeated Glavine because of a more patient approach at the plate. Glavine walked three that night and allowed seven hits. Isn't it time that lesson is fully learned? No. 8.. These Tigers are nothing like the 1984 edition that ran through the regular season, the ALCS and the World Series only to vanish into thin air. That team had Kirk Gibson in the middle of the lineup, Chet Lemon and Larry Herndon making up the rest of the outfield, Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker up the middle where they would remain for years, Lance Parrish behind the plate, plus Jack Morris, Dan Petry and Milt Wilcox each winning 17 games or more, and Guillermo Hernandez and Aurelio Lopez combing to save 46 games. Those Tigers jumped out to a 35-5 start and never looked back, winning 104 regular-season games. It's a great mystery that that team, managed by Sparky Anderson, never came close to duplicating that season. In 1985, they slipped to 84 wins, third place in the AL East and were never heard from again. No. 9. Managers Jim Leyland and Tony La Russa are good friends. GMs Dave Dombrowski and Walt Jocketty could be seen with their arms around each other just prior to Game 1. But all that doesn't mean they don't want to beat each other. In the first blush of defeating the Mets in the NLCS, Jocketty told the story about how the foursome had gone out to dinner during Spring Training in Florida this past March and fantasized about their respective teams facing off in this World Series. Well, here they are. For anyone who might have thought La Russa cut his buddy Leyland some slack on Sunday night when Rogers was found to have a substance on his hand early in the game, think again. La Russa said on Monday that he would be insulted by any such inference. He chose not to complain and let it lie after Rogers washed his hand. Friendships only go so far after the first pitch is tossed. No. 10. The Cardinals are the closest thing to a dynasty in this era, going to the World Series the last two out of three years and the NLCS five out of the last seven, all under La Russa. Alas, they have no championships to show for it. This seems to be a pattern among high-level NL teams. The Braves had their streak of 14 consecutive division titles snapped by the Mets this year. Beginning in 1991, they went to the NLCS nine times, won five and succeeded only in winning the 1995 World Series over Cleveland. One World Series victory wasn't enough for the Braves and even this one may not be enough for the Cardinals, but at least it would be a start.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.