So let us consider the World Series, such as it is, and let us consider its two most noteworthy developments that do not involve the words "Podsednik" and "Jenks."
First, the molding of Brad Lidge as the sensible person's Mitch Williams. And second, the character study of Phil Garner, The Man Who Would Not Be Ozzie.
After two taught and supremely enjoyable games, the White Sox are halfway to owning ... well, okay, renting Chicago. They play the game well, they are loaded with characters, and they are operating in a relative vacuum, Chi-town speaking. The Bulls haven't started, and neither have the Blackhawks. The Cubs finished below .500, the Bears are 3-3, and only Northwestern is providing an entertainment alternative.
|Phil Garner's no Ozzie Guillen when it comes to talking, but he IS a heck of a manager. (AP)|
But that's the story everyone is telling now, as they leap onto a long-abandoned bandwagon. Our story, such as it is, is about Lidge, and to a lesser extent, Garner.
Lidge is choosing the worst time to give up ninth-inning killers -- when casual fans and journalists who don't pay attention until the end of the season show up for Snap Judgment Theatre. And they know two things about him -- Albert Pujols and Scott Podsednik.
In other words, despite the mountains of evidence showing his value, he now stinks because the people who have never seen him before now have decided it.
That's the beauty of postseason ball. Reputations are made, and ignored, all at the same time.
The interesting sidebar to this, though, comes from Lidge's defenders, who say (and here's some logic for you) that they really like the way he comes right at hitters and says he's going to continue to do so.
What, there's a choice? He's going to start throwing outside? He's going to develop a knuckleball and a circle-change between now and Game 3? This is Brad Lidge, and this is what he does, just like Bobby Jenks has been living on nothing but fastballs because the Astros are the lightest-hitting World Series team since the '60s Dodgers. Pitchers have a limited repertoire, and closers an extremely limited one. They beat, and they are beaten, based on that repertoire, and where they can put that repertoire.
In short, they are what they are, and that's all what they are, they're Popeye the Sailor Man.
Sorry. I was channeling Nat Fleischer there for a moment.
As for Garner, he has been getting kicked about as managers do at this level, for (as near as we can tell) not winning, and for using Jeff Bagwell. This is the art of the Underinformed Second-Guess, based on three simple tenets:
- The manager did A.
- B happened.
- The manager is a barely functional idiot who should have known that B was going to happen ahead of time.
Guillen is now the game's untamed darling, quite literally baseball's long overdue answer to Charles Barkley. His managing skills are only unorthodox in terms of his public persona; in fact, he isn't credited nearly as well as he should be for having completely remade his bullpen during the year, an unusual achievement for any manager, let alone one who was a position player.
But Garner is funny, too, and he knows his stuff every bit as well as Guillen. The difference is that every day, Guillen has extra bullets -- Paul Konerko, Freddy Garcia, Neal Cotts. One more power hitter, one more starter, one more reliever. And he uses them accordingly, like smart managers do.
But should the Astros lose the Series, as they are halfway to doing, Garner will be kicked about for failings both real and imagined, because it is the way of our people. He has not been outmanaged, out-thought, out-strategized, out-anythinged.
Well, okay. He has been out-soundbit, and by a wide margin.
But we mention this only because this is shaping up as the kind of World Series without overt acts of malfeasance from the team that is behind. This flies in the face of the famous "Find Me A Villain" parlor game we all like to play this time of year, but the basic truth is that the White Sox are playing as advertised, and the Astros are, too. The Series has come down to its simplest element -- physical skill. One man's talents beating another man's. Sorry, no bad guys here.
But of course, the Series is still in its early stages. Villainy is always afoot, and there is plenty of time to delegate blame. Even if it is warranted.