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At least the NL wins a game this year...

Two games into the World Series, and the Cardinals are probably happier with a split than the Tigers, effectively taking back home-field advantage. Saturday's contest was a real surprise, as St. Louis teed off on Justin Verlander, while it was Reyes who delivered an unexpected pitching gem, shutting down the Tigers into the ninth inning. Meanwhile, the previously-dormant Albert Pujols came back to life like a peeved volcano, after Leyland made the mistake of pitching to him with a man on second and first-base open. If this game had been played at Busch Stadium, a savvy PA operator would have had The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again cued up, to play as Pujols trotted round the bases after his homer.

Enjoyable game yesterday, which followed the anticipated script to a much greater degree i.e. the Tigers' pitching dominated. Rogers pitched eight shutout innings, restricting the Cardinals to only two hits. He was seriously pumped-up throughout the game; I was watching it with a bunch of folk from Diamondbacks Bullpen, and as Rogers ranted and raved, both on the mound and in the dugout, there was rampant speculation as to whether this was perhaps a case of 'roid rage in the flesh. Sad, but probably inevitable, to hear these whispers when any pitcher in his 40's suddenly seems to have found the fountain of youth.

There's also speculation as to whether another artificial aid might have assisted Rogers' performance: the cameras spotted a "substance" on his pitching hand, widely believed to be pine tar. This was, naturally, stoutly denied by Rogers, who claimed it was a "big clump of dirt". Whatever it was, got washed off, and Rogers did still go on to post seven more zeroes, extending his scoreless streak to 23 innings. However, whatever it was has opened a can of worms regarding pine-tar and its use, which is supposed to be verboten: rosin, as held in the little bag behind the mound, is the only substance pitchers are allowed to use to improve their grip.

But it seems that's one rule breached more often than it's followed. According to ESPN's Karl Ravech, 60 to 70 percent of pitchers use pine tar, with Dusty Baker helpfully chiming in that the gunk is usually kept "either on the hat or head or between the legs" - emphasis added for "ewwww!" purposes. So, the next time you see a pitcher apparently adjusting his family jewels, there might be more to it than exhibitionism... I also note that, according to Yahoo, for the two seasons he pitched in Colorado, Detroit closer Todd Jones said he used pine tar every outing. Going by the way he pitched in the ninth, taking a three-run lead, and coming within a bloop single of losing it all, seems he could do with a little additional stickiness between his legs! :-)

Continuing our crusade against the cameraman bashing, pine-tar smearing, 'roid taking (er, last two "allegedly") Rogers, Sports Illustrated discusses whispers about his performances throughout the season. The conspiracy theory is that he doctors his pitches at home, but not on the road for some reason. And even adjusting for park factors, it does appear to be that his strikeout rate is higher, and extra-base hits lower at home than on the road. His ERA has also been significantly higher on the road for several years in a row now; the article is careful to say this "proves" nothing, but it's all certainly very interesting...

Fox has had Eric Byrnes in Detroit as part of their pre-game show, and I was delighted to see yesterday that he'd dropped the tie, going for a more informal, unbuttoned shirt approach. He certainly looked a great deal more comfortable, and the result was a great deal less distracting as well. That's all you can ask for in a TV analyst, visually speaking: everything else that matters is what comes out of their mouth, and Byrnes is doing a fine job there. He won't be seen again, however, unless the series goes six or more games, since Marlins' manager Joe Girardi is getting the task for all the St. Louis contests.

Back in Arizona, the Fall League goes on, with two more games since my last update. Friday saw our Scottsdale Scorpions out-slug the Peoria Javelinas 11-9, in a game which saw a total of 27 hits and eight walks, as well as three errors. Richar, batting leadoff, had a pair of hits, to keep his average up at .400, but there was no luck for Reynolds (0-for-3) or D'Antona (0-for-5). Kinsey pitched a perfect fifth, and has yet to give up a run in the Fall League. He was in line for the win, after the Scorpions scored four in the bottom half to take a 6-4 lead, but the Javelinas came back, and it needed a five-run eighth for Scottsdale to seal the victory.

On Saturday, Scottsdale lost 11-8 in Phoenix, but Mark Reynolds hit two homers, both solo shots, in the second and fourth innings. Was talking to Shoewizard about Reynolds yesterday, and he was also raving about Reynolds' defense at, to my surprise, first-base, though he seems to have been playing left-field on Saturday and is registered as a 3B. He is looking likely to start 2007 in Tucson - where he'll play is a whole other question. Richar went hitless at leadoff, and there were mixed results for our pitchers too. Matt Elliott retired both hitters he faced in the fifth, after being forced into mop-up duty, but Mike Schultz failed to get an out in the seventh, allowing three runs on two walks and a home-run.

Thus far, the lines for our players are as follows:
Danny Richar: .353/.405/.559, 0 HR, 2 RBI
Mark Reynolds: .343/.410/.743, 4 HR, 13 RBI*
Jamie D'Antona: .125/.185/.292, 1 HR, 3 RBI
Steven Jackson: 5 IP, 8 H, 7 R, 7 ER, 2 BB, 2 K
Matt Elliott: 4.2 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 7 K
Chris Kinsey: 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 4 K
Mike Schultz: 3.2 IP, 6 H, 8 R, 5 ER, 3 BB, 6 K

* = Leads the league in SLG and OPS; =1st in HR, =2nd in RBI

The search to fill a couple of vacant spots in the organization continues, with the positions being hitting coach and play-by-play man. We'll be interviewing both the current hitting co-ordinator, Rick Schu, and the A's hitting co-ordinator, Dave Hudgens, according to mlb.com. We also still have bench coach and third-base coach vacancies to fill, though Sidewinders' manager Chip Hale is almost certain to fill one of those. The Tribune reports that the team are interested in speaking to Brewers' announcer Daron Sutton as a Brennaman replacement. It also says Tennessee manager Bill Plummer may replace Hale in Tucson.

Pleased to report that the players and owners have apparently reached an accord on a new collective bargaining agreement - the first time this has happened before the previous one expired, and will keep the game running through 2011. It's not expected that there will be many major changes; things will mostly be tweaked slightly, in areas like the luxury tax. However, one change reported to be in the pipeline is a reduction in the draft pick, given to teams who fail to sign free agents after offering them arbitration. Now, it appears this will only apply to the best (Type A) free agents. We've done quite nicely from these bonus babies in the past, most notably, getting Conor Jackson using Seattle's pick, after they signed Greg Colbrunn, and there were reports they were going to be discontinued. So I'm kinda glad they've been kept, albeit in a reduced form, though the overall help to competitive balance is doubtful.