NLCS all about ball, not bad blood
ST. LOUIS -- One of the best things about this National League Championship Series is that not for a moment has it deteriorated into a cheap display of charges, countercharges, overhyped "controversies" and ego-driven bickering.
Leave that stuff to Congress.
Here, it has been, so far, simply the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. Friday night, it became more Cardinals than Brewers, with St. Louis taking a 3-2 series lead on the strength of a 7-1 Game 5 victory. Either way, the teams have come to Miller Park and Busch Stadium not to knife each other in the back, not to kick each other in the groin, not to exchange personal insults, but to play some highly competitive October baseball.
They have resisted and/or ignored the attempts by some elements of the media to fan the flames of contrived controversy. The result has been baseball, not a media feeding frenzy. The game is so much better when it is about the competition and not the nonsense.
"I think it's gotten to where it's supposed to be," Cards manager Tony La Russa said before Game 5. "I think they are really good clubs. They compete the same way. I think they respect each other and [are] trying to beat each other's brains out, which is what makes this thing fascinating."
Yes, these teams had some differences during the season. They played each other 18 times, they each won nine times, they were both going for the same prize. How could they not have had some differences? Unless they spent the summer under sedation, there were bound to be some differences of opinion. The thing was, it was heat-of-the-moment stuff. It didn't have to add up to lasting animosity. And it didn't.
Yes, there was a little spat regarding whether the Brewers' version of pitching up and in to Albert Pujols was up and in to the point of being dangerous. Then there was the retaliatory question of whether the Cardinals had plunked Ryan Braun on purpose.
There was a spat between St. Louis ace Chris Carpenter and Milwaukee center fielder Nyjer Morgan. Or maybe it was between Carpenter and one of Morgan's alter egos. You cannot imagine Carpenter having an alter ego named "Tony Plush." Maybe this is what they were arguing about. In any case, an argument between Morgan and an opponent is neither a stunning nor a new development.
And there was La Russa's allegation that the ribbon board at Miller Park was fully lit while the Brewers were at the plate, but dimmed when the Cardinals came to bat. There was no merit to this contention. It was mostly a reminder of La Russa's all-encompassing competitive nature. He'll go a long way to distract the opposition, so a part of him might well believe that the opposition will go just as far to distract his guys.
Then there was the flurry of breathless battle updates when Zack Greinke suggested that, on the Brewers, "nobody likes Carpenter."
Numerous Brewers later said that they not only liked, but respected and admired Carpenter. Morgan didn't like Carpenter, but we already knew that. The problem with this whole non-controversy was that Greinke essentially speaks publicly without a filter.
The other 24 people on the Milwaukee roster probably wouldn't have named a name while answering this question. Greinke had a perception that his teammates disliked Carpenter, so he said that. Greinke is incapable of answering a question dishonestly. Rather than chastising him for this trait, we could all wish that, for instance, American politicians shared it.
Anyway, this non-controversy was officially shelved when Carpenter appeared before the baseball media and offered glowing praise about practically every member of the Brewers' active roster.
This was a very kind and openhearted gesture, although it was possible that Carpenter went too far when he described shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt as "a tough out." Praising rivals can be a noble undertaking but Betancourt has a career .292 on-base percentage. "Tough out" went beyond praise into misinformation. Still, Carpenter's heart was in the right place, even if his estimate of Betancourt was inflationary in nature.
The baseball in this series has required no sideshows to reinforce its entertainment value. Braun and Prince Fielder powered Milwaukee to a Game 1 victory in Miller Park. Pujols answered for the Redbirds as only he could, with a five-RBI performance in Game 2. Game 3 was a spotless display of clutch pitching by the St. Louis bullpen. Game 4 featured the best starting performance of the series, seven strong innings from Milwaukee's Randy Wolf.
The only time the level of play slipped was in Game 5. And that was only half the time. There was nothing wrong with the Cardinals' performance, but the Brewers suffered major defensive lapses, committing four errors and allowing three unearned runs.
Apart from that, this whole NLCS has been an undertaking fully worthy of postseason baseball, featuring some of the game's best players performing at the top of their games. What it hasn't featured is any of the extraneous junk that adds nothing but unnecessary noise to an event that already generates an ideal decibel level.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.