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Friday Five: LCS people
Apologies for the delay this morning. Had a very early flight back home.
The League Championship Series began in 1969, making it a comfortable contemporary for many of us. It's far less intimidating than the ancient, domineering World Series.
In recent years, we've been more likely to get an exciting LCS than a worthwhile World Series, and there are many people in the baseball world _ or even out of the baseball world _ whose identity is shaped by something involving them and the LCS.
When I made my first list of "Top LCS people," it numbered 20 people. I cut that down to five because, after all, this is the Friday Five.
The way I determined this list is by asking the question: "Who is most identified by his place in LCS history?" Here's what I decided:
1. Steve Bartman. Yeah, gotta go with a fan. That's how powerful the Bartman mythology has become. His silence has only enhanced his mystical quality.
The poor guy, all he did was reach for a foul ball late in 2003 NLCS Game 6. But Moises Alou's instant, angry reaction got the ball rolling, and the Marlins' rally to win Game 7 _ and subsequent Game 7 victory _ ensured Bartman's unique place in baseball history.
Maybe if Theo Epstein can lead the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908, Bartman will accept an invitation back to Wrigley Field to take part in the ring ceremony the subsequent year. To be forgiven for something in which the penalty hardly fit the crime.
2. Aaron Boone. Yeah, that 2003 postseason was really something. Two days after Bartman became a Chicago household name, Boone capped one of the best LCS in history with walkoff, pennant-winning, 11th-inning homer off Tim Wakefield.
I contemplated putting Chris Chambliss in this slot; after all, he set the model for Boone 27 years prior, and his 1976 ALCS-ending homer (against Kansas City) put the Yankees in their first World Series since 1964. But ultimately, I viscerally decided that Boone is better known for his homer than Chambliss, who had a pretty good overall career, is for his.
It enhances the Boone saga, of course, that he never played another game for the Yankees, and that the left knee injury (sustained while playing basketball) that sidelined him for the entire 2004 season led directly to the Yankees' acquisition of Alex Rodriguez.
3. Donnie Moore. In 1986 ALCS Game 5, with the Angels an out away from winning their first pennant, Moore gave up a go-ahead homer to Boston's Dave Henderson. In 1989, Moore took his own life.
At that juncture, the most irresponsible armchair psychologists decided that there had to be a correlation between Moore's fate-changing homer (the Angels wouldn't win their first pennant until 2002) and his decision to commit suicide. Moore's agent, Dave Pinter, validated that theory on the record.
But there clearly was more to the story. Brad Parks of the Newark Star-Ledger wrote an oustanding report on this on October 4, 2002; unfortunately, I can't find it for free on the Web. Parks produces substantial evidence that blows holes in that shaky theory, starting with the most obvious detail: Moore killed himself after shooting his wife amidst a domestic dispute.
You know how it goes, though; even now, people link Moore's most famous pitch to the end of his life. It's unfortunate. And the cold reality is that Moore's final action only added to the legacy of Henderson's homer.
4. Eric Gregg. That's right, an umpire. He worked home plate for 1997 NLCS Game 5, and never has an umpire received so much credit for a pitcher's performance. Livan Hernandez's dominant, 15-strikeout outing was widely attributed to Gregg's wide strike zone.
The reaction was so furious that MLB went to work on refining its strike zone once more. And now, when people think back on that day, they don't call it "The Livan Hernandez game." They call it "The Eric Gregg game."
5. Carlos Beltran. We're talking about someone who might be inducted into the Hall of Fame someday, so he's hardly a one-trick pony. Yet you can't get too far into a discussion of Beltran's career without getting into not one LCS, but two.
First came his remarkable, four-homer domination of the Cardinals in the 2004 NLCS, which followed his four-homer NLDS for the Astros. His eight-homer postseason - without even playing in the World Series, mind you - made him a highly attractive free agent, and the Mets of course bit with a seven-year, $119-million deal.
And two years later, a fantastic week against the Cardinals turned to dust - and drew the fury of many, many Mets fans - when Beltran looked at Adam Wainwright's great curveball for a heartbreaking, series-ending third strike. Perhaps you've heard about that strikeout in the yakosphere (trademark Neil Best).
--My column off ALCS Game 5 discusses Justin Verlander's amazing performance and what the Yankees should take away from it. I'm home now and will head to Milwaukee Sunday for NLCS Game 6.
--Have a great day.