What the world was like when Wainwright and Molina first teamed up

On Sept. 23, 2005, the world was a different place. George W. Bush was president, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers were cellar dwellers, and, perhaps most baffling of all, Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina had never thrown to each other in a Major League Baseball game.

That would change that night, however, as Wainwright made his second career appearance. His first had come in a game where Molina had already been pulled. In the bottom of the 7th, with the Brewers leading the Cardinals 9-6 at Miller Park, Wainwright came in and put down the Brewers 1-2-3: Chad Moeller by flyball, Jeff Cirillo by pop-out, and Brady Clark with a flyball to center.

And Wainwright has seemingly been pitching to Yadier Molina ever since. They’ve had over 300 starts as a battery since Wainwright became a full-time starter in 2007. They’ll start again tonight in the Wild Card Game against the Dodgers. They’ll likely continue to serve as a battery next year, and presumably for however long the two of them stay with the Cardinals.

So how else was the world different back when Wainwright first threw to Molina? Here’s a sampling:

  • That weekend (Sept. 23-25), the number one movie would be Flightplan starring Jodie Foster.
  • The top song was “Gold Digger” by Kanye West and Jamie Foxx.
  • The Washington Nationals were in their first season since moving from Montreal.
  • Los Angeles’ pitcher tonight, Max Scherzer, was playing for the University of Missouri.
  • The Dodgers’ manager, Dave Roberts, was still an active ballplayer.
  • The City of Chicago had not seen a World Series title since 1917 (the White Sox would win it a month later).
  • Daniel Craig had not yet debuted as James Bond.
  • Tobey Maguire was still Spider-Man.
  • The Nintendo Wii was still a year away from release.
  • John Roberts was not yet confirmed as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
  • Most of the child cast of Stranger Things were not even in grade school yet. One of them, Priah Ferguson (who plays Lucas’ little sister Erica), hadn’t even been born.
  • Saturday Night Live had yet to have a broadcast in High Definition. The Colbert Report was just under a month from debuting. The West Wing, Alias, Malcom in the Middle, and That ’70s Show were all still on the air.

And finally…

  • Every other member of the Cardinals’ Wild Card roster had not played a game of professional baseball. And on the Dodgers only Albert Pujols had. And on Sept. 23, 2005 he was… at first base for the Cardinals as Wainwright threw to Molina!

Preview/Prediction for AL Wild Card Tonight

It’s the Tampa Bay Rays at the Cleveland Indians tonight, with the winner advancing to the ALDS. While I’ve predicted the past two games correctly, I feel like this one will be tougher. But, ultimately, I still like the Rays here.

My reasons:

  • Pitching, pitching, pitching. Alex Cobb is a better and (slightly) more experienced starter than Danny Salazar, and the Rays bullpen, while tired and sometimes erratic, at least has a defined closer and role players, unlike the by-committee approach that now rules the Indians’ pen.
  • Hitting. Team WAR on Fangraphs for the Rays this season was 30.3, behind only the Red Sox. Team WAR for Indians was 21.8, 15th in MLB. Also, Evan Longoria is on fire. That alone can turn the tide of the game.
  • Fielding: The Rays have an advantage in most advanced fielding statistics and metrics.
  • Momentum: The Rays were playing only two days ago, on Monday. The Indians have been sitting around since Sunday.
  • Playoff experience: The Rays have been here before, most (but certainly not all) of the Indians haven’t.

So, I’m predicting a 5-3 Rays victory tonight.

On Infield Flies and Jeffrey Maier (OR: Why the Cardinals could win the World Series but would not be known for the infield fly play)

In baseball, little things can mean a lot. And those little things sometimes are forgotten by all but those who felt themselves wronged.

Some have had problems with how the St. Louis Cardinals benefited from the infield fly call in the NL Wild Card game. While it seems, after reflection and hearing from various experts on TV and online, that the call was technically correct, it struck me as not exactly fitting the spirit of the rules for the infield fly: the infield fly is meant to protect the runners from a possible double play, something I do not believe the Cardinals had any chance of pulling.

The game was protested, of course, and, just like (almost) every other protested game in history, the protest was denied. No matter what your opinion on that infield fly play, you cannot deny, however, that the Cardinals probably dodged a bullet: had there been no call, it is entirely possible they would have lost that game, and would not be headed into a series with Washington. Why, you almost have this sinking feeling that maybe, just maybe, the Cardinals are now going to go on a run to a championship. And you probably think that, for better or worse, they are going to be known as the team that won because of a possibly-incorrect infield fly call. Fans of the Braves and baseball in general may be in horror at the idea that such a thing could happen, and even some Cardinals fans probably are a bit worried that their team, if they go on a run, will probably go on to be remembered the “infield fly team.”

They probably are wrong. In general, only the losing teams are remembered in places where massive mistakes are made, and even then usually only if they themselves are the ones screwing up: the 1986 Red Sox may have lost the World Series because Billy Buckner couldn’t field a routine grounder (there had already been several things that had gone wrong, but it’s that image everyone remembers), the 2003 Cubs may have lost the NLCS because devoted Cubs’ fan Steve Bartman sort-of got in Moises Alou’s way (there is no guarantee he would have caught it, but you never know) and the 1919 Chicago White Sox lost the series because seven or eight players (depending on whether you count Buck Weaver) threw games. Nobody ever seems to associate the 1986 Mets, 2003 Marlins or 1919 Reds with those events, other than as background.

Given that the Orioles (!) and Yankees are about to meet up in the ALDS, a look at their shared history perhaps best illustrates this fact. I speak of the tale of Jeffrey Maier, a then-12-year-old who, in the bottom of the eighth inning in Game 1 of the 1996 ALCS, reached into the field of play and snagged a Derek Jeter fly ball that seemed destined for the glove of Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco (or, at the very least, the warning track- but not over the fence). Right-field umpire Rich Garcia said that it was a home run, tying the game at four and paving the way for an extra-innings Yankees win. The Orioles’ protest was denied. The Yankees went on to win the series, and the World Series. I was only six at the time, but even I remember thinking that it was some kind of cheating, as if the Yankees had hired that kid to be out there to rob Tony Tarasco, or something. I seem to recall grabbing a newspaper that had a photo of the play on it, grabbing a large red crayon, and drawing a big giant X through it, to show my disgust.

Hey, I was six. I’m not even sure if I had a clue what was going on, but I remember having that big crossed-out picture for awhile, so I must have known something.

Maier, meanwhile, became a pint-sized celebrity, appearing on late night talk shows, being given the Key to the City by Rudy Giuliani, and being generally hailed as a hero by the city, county and state of New York. This despite the fact that, by any measure whatsoever, Maier had done something illegal and helped, intended or not, the Yankees win (or, as six-year-old me would say, cheat) their way to victory. There must have been lots of interesting conversations in New York after that:
“Dad, can I reach out and grab the ball?”
“No, son, it’s against the rules. They’ll kick us out of the stadium.”
“But Jeff Maier did it, and he got to be on TV, and he got that giant key from the mayor!”
“Yes, son, but…”

However, as the years have gone on, Maier has become a footnote, remembered only by grateful Yankee fans, angry Oriole fans and completist baseball historians. He’s now grown-up, a married man and former college player who is involved with baseball off the field. When the 1996 Yankees are discussed, they aren’t called the team that possibly won the ALCS only because of the actions of a 12-year-old, they are known more for being the first title-winning club of the Derek Jeter era.

And this, likely, is what the future may hold for the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals. If they go on a run, as they did in 2006 and 2011, they will be known as a team that won the World Series despite having lost their future Hall-Of-Fame manager, their esteemed hitting coach, and their most famous and talented player in the previous off-season. They may also be known as the first franchise to win three World Series in the 21st century. But it is highly unlikely that anyone other than relieved Cardinal fans, angry Braves fans and completist baseball historians will think much of the infield fly call and whether the Cardinals had gotten lucky.

Because, the thing is, sometimes the lucky teams and the cheaters prosper. And when that happens, the little details that caused them to be lucky or caused them to be cheaters end up becoming footnotes, for better or worse.

So don’t sweat the infield fly, sports fans. Well, except for Braves fans. You’ve already done way more than sweat over it… but that’s another story.