The National and American League Championship Series have been set. It will be the Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League and the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros in the American League.
For the Dodgers, this is their fifth trip to the NLDS in six years. They’re hoping to go to the World Series for the fourth time in five years.
The LCS and possibly even the World Series will seem almost anti-climactic this year after that League Division Series between the Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants. That was a series that featured the two best teams in baseball in 2021. It was an epic series that went the full five games. Nearly all the observers I’ve seen have said it was a shame it had to end the way it did: on a checked swing that was very likely a blown call.
The Dodgers went ahead 2-1 in the top of the ninth at Oracle Park on a single by Cody Bellinger that scored Justin Turner. Turner had been hit by a pitch and advanced to second on a single by Gavin Lux.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Giants raised the tension level to the max as they had two outs and the tying run at second. Wilmer Flores was down 0-2 in the count. He appeared to check his swing on an outside pitch.
First base umpire Gabe Morales thought differently and said Flores went around. Strike three. Game over. Dodgers win, move on to NLCS. Giants lose, go home. Please pick up your trash before you leave and drive carefully on your way home.
The Giants couldn’t even appeal the call or ask for a replay. That’s because it was a “judgement” call on the part of the umpires. In my judgement, from what I saw, Mr. Morales needs glasses.
This was such a great series between two great teams that it was a real shame it had to end this way. If I were a paranoid type, I might think Major League Baseball wanted to make sure their top television market got into the World Series. Of course, I’d never think anything like that.
This was not the first time an epic championship series ended with a dumb, anti-climactic play. For perhaps the most famous play of this type, we can go back to the 1926 World Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
The Cards had a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh when the Yanks loaded the bases with two out. Tension was high. St. Louis Manager Rogers Hornsby sent in Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander to relieve starter Jesse Haines. Alexander was 39, and well past his prime. Many thought he was “washed up.”
Alexander faced Tony Lazzeri and struck him out. Rally over, Cards lead preserved. Yankee fans groaned while Cardinal fans breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Alexander pitched the eighth inning and the game went into the bottom of the ninth. He got Earle Combs and Mark Koenig to ground out. Then, he walked Babe Ruth, who already had a home run in the game.
Then came the infamous dumb play. As Alexander pitched to Bob Muesel, Ruth suddenly broke for second base. Ruth, who was never that fast to begin with, was easily out. End of game, end of series. The Cardinals are World Series Champions, the Yankees get to go home. Everyone at the time said it was a shame this Series had to end this way.
Just why did Babe Ruth try to steal second base, especially with the World Series on the line? He never did say why. Did he get the signs confused? Did he get what some people now call a “brain fart”? We’ll never know. To many historians, this was about the only bonehead play Ruth ever made. I don’t know if that’s true, but it was a doozy!
So, the Giants are not alone in seeing a playoff series end with a dumb call or dumb play. I suspect they will come back strong next year with a chip on their shoulders and with something to prove. I’ll bet the 2022 Giants will be spectacular.
In the meantime, let’s hope the two League Championship Series and the World Series can live up to what we’ve seen so far. They’ve got quite an act to follow.