The Tigers are rusty? The Giants have momentum? Well, fine, I guess we have to go with that

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SAN FRANCISCO — The crowd at AT&T Park cheered a 5-4 putout in the first inning of last night’s Game 1 as though it were a walkoff home run in Game 7. This is not a criticism. It is merely an observation. They were hyped from the get-go — I think it started with the Blue Angels flyover following the National Anthem — and had every reason to remain hyped throughout.

So hyped, I assume, that they wouldn’t want to think too hard about the fact that the Giants won Game 1 in the 2002 World Series too, and that their playoff series wins so far this year all began with Game 1 losses. Put a less annoying way: it is still only one game and anything can happen in a seven game series, even if it did feel like the beginning of a trouncing.

I’ve mocked narratives pretty constantly lately, but two of them which were widely adopted before last night’s game started have fresh currency today: (1) the Tigers were going to be rusty; and (2) the Giants had momentum. They may not have a basis in reality, of course — Justin Verlander’s velocity and lack of command of his fastball was such that fatigue, rather than rust may be the bigger problem and, if anything, the Giants habit of losing the early games of the series and then roaring back is anti-momentum — but I doubt that will change the overall story. The Tigers layoff and big San Francisco MO are likely going to be all the rage today.

A few things we certainly can take away from Game 1 (apart from Pablo Sandoval’s history-making performance anyway):

  • The Tigers looked lost against slow junk like Zito was flinging. The Giants shouldn’t give them fastballs all week;
  • That little weird double that kicked off the third inning rally — the one that ricocheted off the third base bag — is the second weirdo vodoo hit the Giants have had in the past two games. If they get something like that or the Hunter Pence broken bat dipsy-doodle in Game 2, they are officially charmed and wicked in some strange way;
  • It may have been overlooked because the game was already out of hand, but the Tigers bullpen is still a hot mess and based on how he looked in mopup duty last night Jose Valverde should not be given the ball again. Not even once. Even in a blowout he’s so unreliable that Leyland has to use other relievers just to bail him out. He should be done.
  • It’s random, but someone needs to talk to Delmon Young about where he’s playing left field. I watched the game from way up high in the auxiliary press box in left, and I could not see Young, he was so close to the wall.  Given how bad his arm is, anything hit out that way to him should be an instant double. Not sure what that was all about.

That’s all I have as far as in-game action goes (I’ll have more on-the-scene observations a bit later this morning). The Tigers have to shake this one off. It’s still just one game. If people still want to credit momentum, fine, but the idea of momentum being your next day’s starting pitcher has been around a lot longer than the current momentum story. So it’s up to Doug Fister to re-set the storylines.

Theo Epstein named The World’s Greatest Leader

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Fortune Magazine has put out a list of The World’s Greatest Leaders. Not the greatest business leaders, not the greatest leaders in a given industry, but the Greatest Leaders, full stop. The greatest according to Fortune: The Cubs’ Theo Epstein.

For some context, Pope Francis was third. Angela Merkel was 10th. Lebron James was the next greatest sports leader, ranked 11th. Take Fortune’s methodology with a grain of salt, however, given that it has John McCain above Merkel — what, exactly, does he lead now? — and Samantha Bee in the top 20.

So what makes Theo the world’s best leader according to Fortune?

The Cubs owe their success to a five-year rebuilding program that featured a concatenation of different leadership styles. The team thrived under the affable patience of owner Tom Ricketts, and, later, under the innovative eccentricity of manager Joe Maddon. But most important of all was the evolution of the club’s president for baseball operations, Theo Epstein, the wunderkind executive who realized he would need to grow as a leader in order to replicate in Chicago the success he’d had with the Boston Red Sox.

I don’t want to take anything away from what Theo has done — he’s a Hall of Fame executive already in my view — but I feel like maybe one needs to adjust for the fact that this is a baseball team we’re talking about. They’re the whole world to us and their brands are nationally and even world famous, but as an organization, sports teams are rather small. There are guys who run reasonably-sized HVAC companies with more employees than a baseball team and they don’t get the benefit of an antitrust exemption and a rule which allows them to get their pick of the best new employees if they had a bad year the year before.

Really, not trying to throw shade here, just thinking that being the spiritual father for 1.2 billion Catholics or running a foundation that serves 55 million needy children — like the woman who comes in at number 14 — is a bit of a tougher trick.

But this will make a great framed magazine article on Theo’s wall in Wrigley Field.

 

 

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.