Postseason Notebook–World Series Game Two

While most of the media gravitates toward Kenny Rogers and that awful greasy spot seen on his pitching hand, I’ll focus first on his Tigers teammate, Carlos Guillen. (I’ll get to Rogers later, but Guillen deserves top billing.) For years we’ve heard about the great American League shortstops, from Rodriguez to Garciaparra to Jeter to Tejada. Guillen has almost never been mentioned in the same whispers with any of those players. Sometimes it takes a postseason to develop a full appreciation for a truly terrific player. Well, count me among those who now realize what many Tiger fans recognized much earlier this season: Guillen is an elite player, a legitimate star, and a shortstop who has an outside chance to make the Hall of Fame.

In Game Two of the World Series, Guillen banged out three hits and reached base four times, tormenting Cardinal pitchers from both sides of the plate. As vital as Rogers’ pitching was, the Tigers likely don’t win the game without Guillen’s RBI double in the second or his tablesetting triple in the fifth. On the latter play, Guillen made a great baserunning decision after smacking the ball into the right-field corner. Realizing that Juan Encarnacion had taken a bad route to the ball after anticipating a more radical carom off the wall, Guillen took advantage by advancing all the way to third, when most players would have stopped at second, satisfied with a double. And Guillen’s been doing all of this on offense while having to deal with the distraction of playing out of position. Jim Leyland, seemingly obsessed with playing Ramon Santiago at shortstop, has had Guillen play first base during the first two games of the Series. It hasn’t mattered, as Guillen has had no Gary Sheffield moments at a position he’s never played prior to this season.

Very quietly, Guillen has hit .318, .320, and .320 over the last three seasons. He spreads the ball from foul line to foul line, making him also impossible to defend with any kind of scouting report fielding shifts. From the left side, he’s particular lethal on pitches down and in, which he simply doesn’t miss. He’s hit 39 home runs in his last two full, healthy seasons, making him a threat even at spacious Comerica Park. He’s also shown an increased willingness to be patient at the plate; he drew a career-high 71 walks and struck out only 87 times. Plus he’s an excellent overall baserunner who added the stolen base to his arsenal this year, stealing 20 bases during the regular season. If there’s one thing to criticize, it’s his fielding, which resulted in a career-high 28 errors this season, but even that lofty number is tempered by his above-average range in the field.

Guillen’s greatness has come later than it does for most players. He really didn’t make the transition from useful player to star until 2005, when he was 29 years of age. Prior to this year, he had missed a ton of games with injury; the 153 games he played in this year represented a career high. All of this will make it very difficult for Guillen to put up a case for the Hall of Fame, but at least he now has a chance. If he can sustain the excellence he’s shown over the last two seasons for a period of four or five more years and can then pad his offensive numbers with some decent seasons in his late thirties, he has a chance to impress the Cooperstown voters.

More importantly, if he continues to hit and run the bases like a Midwest version of Derek Jeter, he could lead the Tigers to their first World Championship in 22 seasons…

While Kenny Rogers continues to do his postseason imitation of Whitey Ford, some first-inning camerawork by FOX last night showed that he might have been working with an illegal advantage on his pitching hand. Rogers’ explanation that he wasn’t initially aware of the "clump of dirt" on his hand is complete balderdash on both counts. First, any pitcher knows exactly what is on his pitching hand at all times. Second, that wasn’t a clump of dirt, it was a thin layer of a greasy substance that somehow made its way onto his hand. With 23 consecutive scoreless innings in the postseason, it wouldn’t shock me if Rogers were cheating; his curveball is breaking with more snap than it has in years. I just don’t know how to explain the increase in Rogers’ velocity, which is something than can’t be helped by a foreign substance. This former postseason pariah is somehow throwing a fastball in the 91-93 mile-per-hour range, and that’s hard to figure from a guy who has been a soft-tosser in the later stages of his career…

Although the Tigers emerged with a split in the first two games, their offense mustered only five runs in two nights. I don’t understand why Leyland insists on using Guillen out of position and making Sean Casey his DH, just so that he can accommodate the noodle bat of Santiago at shortstop. (Why not use Marcus Thames or Alexis Gomez at DH, where they will be far more productive at the plate than Santiago?) With the Series headed back to St. Louis to be played under National League rules, Leyland will be forced to put Guillen back at short and Casey at first, making the Tigers a better overall team. This might be the first Series in history when an American League team is actually at an advantage playing without the DH…

In the meantime, Tony LaRussa has faced some second-guessing for his decision to let Yadier Molina bat in the ninth inning, foregoing an opportunity to use a left-handed pinch-hitter like Chris Duncan. Under normal circumstances, I would agree with the criticism, but not here. The hero of the National League Championship Series, Molina has been one of LaRussa’s hottest hitters. It’s the old Billy Martin philosophy of "riding the hot hand" and it’s the right thing to do during these short postseason series…

On a more somber note, Cooperstown lost one of its nicest people last week. Evelyn Kachline, the wife of former Hall of Fame historian and Sporting News writer Cliff Kachline, died at the age of 84. She was the first paid employee in the history of the Society for American Baseball Research. Evelyn often attended programs at the Hall of Fame, including film presentations and SABR-related functions. Always kind and polite, Evelyn’s presence will be sorely missed in the Cooperstown community.

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