Bert Blyleven vs. Jack Morris: The 1987 ALCS

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No, I’m not going to go over the entire candidacies of both. Suffice to say I support Blyleven for the Hall of Fame and not Morris. Those who have it the other way around say that Morris was better than his statistics and Blyleven worse. And, sure, there are cases in which statistics don’t tell the whole story. I don’t really believe this is one of them.

What most don’t remember is that Blyleven and Morris actually met in a big game. And the supposed big game pitcher didn’t fare so well.

In Game 1 of the 1987 ALCS, the Tigers started Doyle Alexander, who had performed so brilliantly down the stretch after being acquired from the Braves for John Smoltz. Alexander had a rough night, though, and Frank Viola pitched the Twins to an 8-5 victory in the Metrodome.

Morris and Blyleven got the call in Game 2. Morris, still in his prime at 32, had just finished one of his best regular seasons, going 18-11 with a 3.38 ERA in a year in which offense had increased dramatically.

Blyleven wasn’t quite as good in his age-36 campaign, finishing 15-12 with a 4.01 ERA. He led the majors in homers allowed for a second straight season, coming in at 46 in 267 innings. Still, his 115 ERA+ was perfectly solid, if slightly below his career mark. Morris had come in at 126.

Game 2 opened with a scoreless first inning. The second saw Morris handed a two-run lead thanks to a single from Matt Nokes and Chet Lemon’s two-run homer. However, it didn’t last. Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Tim Laudner all doubled in the bottom of the inning, and the Twins went up 3-2.

The Twins went on to add two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth. Blyleven shut the Tigers down until the eighth, when he was pulled after a Lou Whitaker homer and a Darrell Evans single with one out. Juan Berenguer came in and retired five straight to give the Twins a 6-3 win. Morris went the distance for Detroit in what was his first career postseason loss after three wins.

That was it for Morris in 1987. Blyleven came back on three days’ rest in Game 5 and outpitched Alexander as the Twins claimed the series 4-1. Morris was held back for a Game 6 that never came. The Twins went on to win the World Series, and Blyleven ended up 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his four postseason starts.

As much attention as Morris’ postseason record gets, Blyleven also deserves credit for going 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA when he got the opportunity. Yes, he made the postseason just three times and barely pitched in one (he made one relief appearance as a 19-year-old for the Twins in 1970 ALCS), but he does have two World Series rings to go along with his fine regular-season record. Morris, who has three rings, went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in his 13 postseason starts.

Kevin Kiermaier on Rays’ recent moves: “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset.”

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On Sunday, we heard from former Ray and current Giants third baseman Evan Longoria. The Rays recently traded pitcher Jake Odorizzi to the Twins for a prospect and designated All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, which didn’t make a whole lot of sense outside of a cost-cutting perspective. Longoria said, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base.”

Today, we’re hearing from a current Ray: center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, who is set to enter his fifth full season with the club. Via Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, Kiermaier said, “I am 100 percent frustrated and very upset with the moves. No beating around the bush. It’s one of those things that makes you scratch your head, you don’t know the reasoning why. And then you see the team’s explanation and still it’s just like, okay, well, so be it.”

Longoria — formerly the face of the franchise — was traded to the Giants in December and the Rays continued to subtract with their recent moves involving Odorizzi and Dickerson. Odorizzi has a career 3.83 ERA in what has been a solid, if unspectacular, career. Dickerson put up an All-Star season, posting an .815 OPS with 27 home runs in 150 games. Moving either player was not done to fix a positional log jam. In fact, with Odorizzi out of the picture, the Rays are planning to use a four-man starting rotation for the first six-plus weeks of the season, Topkin reported on Sunday. Dickerson’s ouster simply opens the door for Mallex Smith, who posted a .684 OPS last year, to start every day in the outfield.

The Rays got markedly worse after going 80-82 last season. They saved a few million bucks jettisoning Odorizzi and Dickerson. And Rays ownership still wants the public to foot most of the bill for their new stadium.

When it was just one small market team pinching pennies, it was fine. But now that more than half of the league has adopted penny-pinching principles popularized by Moneyball and Sabermetrics (with the Rays among the chief offenders), the game of baseball has become markedly less fan- and player-friendly. This offseason has been less about players signing contracts and changing teams in trades — which helps build excitement and intrigue for the coming year — and more about front offices doing math problems concerning the $197 million competitive balance tax threshold and other self-imposed monetary restraints. Fun. Kiermaier is right to be upset and he’s very likely not alone in feeling that way.