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Sun Apr 20 05:12:21 SAST 2014

Post-season baseball provides wild rides

JULIA BEFFON | 14 October, 2012 09:280 Comments
Division Series - San Francisco Giants v Cincinnati Reds - Game Five
Sergio Romo of the San Francisco Giants celebrates following the last out of game five of the National League Division Series against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on October 11, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Giants won 6-4
Image by: Andy Lyons / Getty Images

THIS has been a wild ride. Each of baseball four division series match-ups went the distance, with emotional rallies, big-name snubs and crucial injuries tipping the balance.

Dusty Baker’s Cincinnati Reds were perhaps the unluckiest losers, with what seemed to be a trivial incident in the first minutes of Game 1 eventually leading to their blowing a two-game lead to the San Francisco Giants.

As post-season play began, starting pitcher Johnny Cueto removed Angel Pagan (a glorious name) at the top of the Giants order, then shaped up to pitch to Marco Scutaro.

The umpire called time as Cueto started his pitching motion and the Dominican-born player hung onto the ball as his arm shot forward.

The extra forces damaged an oblique muscle and Cueto was out of the game — but it seemed an irrelevance as the Reds won the first two games in San Francisco, returning home to the Queen City with three chances to wrap up the series.

Facing elimination in every game in Cincinnati, the Giants pulled together, with Tim Lincecum, back-to-back Cy Young winner in 2008 and 2009, calmly swallowing his ego to come out of the bullpen to pitch several innings of long relief. It’s been a tough season for the Freak but his class shone through.

The Cueto injury came back to haunt the Reds in Game 4. Cueto had to be placed on the DL to make room on the roster for Mike Leake — and too many bullpen arms had to be used to back up the under-prepared starter. This left the cupboard too bare to handle the Giants’ streaky offence then and in Game 5.

Baker remains unable to win a series in the post-season and the Giants became the first National League team to come back and win from two games down.

If their new closer Sergio Romo’s facial hair is not quite of Brian Wilson-esque proportions yet, his enthusiastic chest beating at the end of Game 5 proved it’s time to Fear the Beard again.

They’ll take on the St Louis Cardinals in the NL Championship series, a rematch of the past two World Series winners.

The Cards proved that they can win without Albert Pujols, conjuring another last-at-bat miracle to see off the Washington Nationals.

The Nats were a big disappointment, having built up the best record in all of baseball during the regular season.

They’re young and ambitious enough to be back in the mix next year, but if they fail to build on this year’s performances they might rue for decades the decision to mothball ace pitcher Stephen Strasburg when they had this first chance for glory.

Across in the American League, the Detroit Tigers sneaked past the Oakland Athletics, with current Cy Young holder and league MVP Justin Verlander proving that an ace will always beat young jacks.

The A’s can look forward to next season with some optimism, as their youngsters won’t be rookies any more.

The major post-season drama was, of course, provided by the Yankees.

In a week where the anti-drug authorities produced a 1000-page report cataloguing Lance Armstrong’s transgressions, the scent of steroids drifted on the autumn air in Yankee Stadium.

In Game 3, slugger Alex Rodriguez, a former Madonna squeeze and a drug cheat — take your pick on which is less appealing — was unceremoniously benched in the ninth innings.

Raul Ibanez, recently of the Phillies and a man permanently disfigured by an enormous wad of chewing tobacco in his cheek, pinch hit for A-Rod and blasted a home run. He blasted a second, game-winning home run in his next at bat.

That cued a awkward press conference for A-Rod, at which the highest-paid player in baseball had to lie about how much he enjoyed watching a bit-player so comprehensively outshine him.

A Rod was back for Game 4 (a loss) and did not start the pivotal Game 5. The Yankees won (with great production from Ibanez).

The analysts immediately went to work, asking if the man who has signed two contracts worth more than $250-million apiece in his career was finally done.

Did the end of the drug use, finally admitted to in 2009, mean an unjuiced, frequently injured A-Rod was over at 37?

Perhaps, but that took the focus away from Ibanez who, at 40, is even less of a spring chicken.

What’s surprising about Ibanez is that the home-run power came late in his career. He attributes this to discovering that he had a gluten allergy and removing it from his diet, but the drug rumours — heatedly denied as they always are — swirled for a while in Philadelphia.

This gluten story was used by Novak Djokovic to explain his sudden domination of tennis, too.

I’m sorry, but I’m not buying. Cutting out wheat, etc, might eliminate the fatigue eating it introduced, but it doesn’t turn you into the Duracell bunny overnight or give you the sudden power spinach gives Popeye.

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