With a title like that, I am sure you are wondering where this is going. Yeah, me too.
Last night, the Springfield Cardinals capped off a thrilling season by defeating the Frisco Roughriders (Texas AL) 2-1. That gave them a 3 games to 1 victory in the series. For the first time in franchise history (2005-present), the Springfield Cardinals are the Texas League Champions.
The pitching from both teams was spectacular, especially from the Cardinals top 2012 draft pick, Michael Wacha. He was simply overpowering.
The victory was not without some controversy, one of them of the Don Denkinger variety. The big one happened to start the eighth inning, with Springfield holding on to a slim 2-0 lead. Leury Garcia led off with a slow grounder to third base. Jermaine Curtis picked the ball up and quickly fired to first base. Watching the play, it appeared as if Garcia had beaten the throw, but was called out. Frisco manager, Steve Buechele, ran out to argue the call as Garcia was held back by his first base coach. After a few moments, Beuchele seemed satisfied with the explanation, at least well enough not to get thrown out in eighth inning of an elimination game.
It is what happened next that has made me stop and reevaluate the famous Don Denkinger call in Game Six of the 1985 World Series. It came from a place that I least expected.
On with the game….
The next batter, Chris McGuiness rips an Eric Fornataro pitch down the left field line. Adam Melker gives chase and looks as if he has a good line on the ball, but he runs out of room, hitting the outfield wall. The ball clears with plenty of room, and that home run cuts the Springfield lead in half, 2-1.
The blown call at first base was suddenly magnified, or was it ….
Let’s turn to the Frisco broadcast team. When Garcia was called out, there was a bit of discussion about the bad call. It went on while Steve Beuchele discussed the call with the umpires, but once the Frisco manager went back into his dugout, the discussion ended.
On the home run call, we heard the expected, “how big is that call at first base now”.
But ….. what followed was something I never thought I would hear on a radio broadcast. “That would have made it a tie game, but you can’t assume that [McGuiness’s home run] would have happened the same way. It just doesn’t work that way” And this is from the broadcast team on the bad end of the call.
But they are absolutely right. With a man on base, perhaps Fornataro pitches differently to McGuiness. He would certainly be trying to get the ground ball, hoping for a double play. Maybe he hits the home run and ties the game, maybe he doesn’t. And later, when Frisco is down to their last out, there was no talk about the call at first base. They were complimentary of Springfield, pointing out that Frisco had their chances to score runs in each of the four games, but the Cardinals pitching kept that from happening – especially Scott Gorgen in the middle innings of this game.
I can learn a lesson from this tiny moment in a AA game that maybe 1,500 people attended, a handful more on MiLB.TV. If they can put aside a call like that in an elimination game, then perhaps it is time for some of us (me included) to put the Don Denkinger call to rest. Sure, both were factors in each game, but there were also ample opportunities to secure the win or come from behind and steal the game.
Perhaps this is also a lesson that Cardinals fans should learn after watching replay after replay of Yadier Molina throwing out Dee Gordon, but not getting the call. That too was a pivotal moment in the game, but no more than Jon Jay or Daniel Descalso just missing a game ending catch or Mike Matheny opting not to put Luis Cruz on first base with an intentional walk.