SAVING THE WORST FOR LAST

By Murray Chass

October 31, 2010

From the start of his year to the end, defense played a major role in Brooks Conrad’s first full season in the major leagues. His defensive play in spring training earned Conrad a job as a utility infielder with Atlanta, and it earned him a seat in the dugout for the last game of the Braves’ year and Bobby Cox’s storied managerial career.Brooks Conrad2 225

Conrad’s post-season performance will be far more unforgettable than what he did to win a job as a 30-year-old rookie. Conrad, in fact, gained a special status as the poster boy of a post-season in which no one has seemingly been able to catch the ball cleanly or throw it accurately.

Through the first three games of the World Series, 47 errors had been committed in this post-season, including a whopping 6 in the World Series opener. With a minimum of two more games to be played between the Giants and the Rangers, that total already ranks sixth, according to Elias Sports Bureau, in the 16-year wild-card era.

Conrad, the Braves’ second baseman, contributed four errors to that total, including three in Game 3 of the division series between the Braves and the Giants. That three-error effort, which produced a 3-2 loss and prompted his manager to bench him for Game 4, was the painful climax to an incredibly ugly run of errors for Conrad.

Until the final day of the regular season, when Conrad was in the starting lineup, he was the third baseman and Omar Infante the second baseman. They were playing because Chipper Jones and Martin Prado were injured and couldn’t play.

However, in the three games before the season finale, Conrad made a throwing error in each game, misfiring on two throws to second base and one to first. Cox was understandably uncomfortable heading into the post-season with Conrad tossing baseballs wide of their intended receivers so for the last game before the start of the playoffs he switched Conrad and Infante.

So what happened? A grounder scooted between second baseman Conrad’s legs for an error, and third baseman Infante also misplayed a grounder. Cox, out of options, left them at their new positions for the series with the Giants, and Infante didn’t boot a ball or throw one away.

Conrad, however, extended his error streak to five games by misplaying a grounder in the playoff opener. Even though he broke his streak in Game 2, his opening-game error served as a prelude to his extravaganza in Game 3.

His misplay of Freddy Sanchez’s double play grounder in the first inning didn’t cost the Braves, but a run scored in the second when he dropped Cody Ross’s popup in short right field as he chased it with his back to the infield.

The worst was to come. With the Braves leading, 2-1, and two out in the ninth, Buster Posey rapped an ostensible game-over grounder to second, but instead of nestling into Conrad’s glove, the ball shot between his legs. The tying run scored, and a minute later the winning run followed.

Brooks Conrad Error 225“I wish I could dig a hole and go sleep in there,” Conrad said afterward. “I’m embarrassed about it.”

Conrad made no more errors in the series. He did not play in Game 4. Cox returned Infante to second and put Troy Glaus at third. Neither committed an error.

No other player had made more than two post-season errors. Most recent to make two was Vladimir Guerrero, a designated hitter for most of the season, who played right field for the Rangers in the Series opener because the d.h. is not used in National League cities.

However, Guerrero’s rust-covered glove betrayed him. He let one hit skip past him and had difficulty picking up another. He was not back in right for Game 2. Two players on each team, all infielders, committed the other errors in the game.

Uncharacteristic of this post-season, Game 2 had no errors.

This post-season is by no means unusual. Previous post-seasons featured, if not errors in abundance, memorable miscues. Some, in fact, are as memorable as game or Series-winning hits.

Who can forget Bill Buckner? Leon Durham? Mike Andrews? Willie Davis? What about the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff? Yes, the Tigers’ pitchers who suffered an attack of amnesia in the 2006 World Series. They suddenly forgot how to field and throw a baseball.

With Justin Verlander making book-end wild throws in the first and fifth games, the Detroit pitchers made five errors and became the first team to have a pitcher commit an error in every game. Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney also made wild throws, and Todd Jones fumbled a grounder.

No pitching staff had ever made more than three errors in a World Series, and these errors led to seven unearned runs, including six of the last 12 runs the Cardinals scored in their Series triumph.

”I haven’t seen anything like it,” Jim Leyland, the Detroit manager, said. Nor had anyone else.

Brandon Inge was the only other Detroit fielder who made an error in that Series, and he made three errors.

Three was an unpopular number, too, for Willie Davis in the 1966 World Series. Except it didn’t take him the entire Series to make his three errors; it didn’t even take him a game. He made three errors in one inning, the fifth, in Game 2.

Davis, an excellent center fielder, dropped fly balls hit by two successive batters that he said he lost in the sun (yes, they still played day games then). He picked up error No. 3 when he retrieved the second dropped ball and threw it wildly back to the infield.

The Orioles, who scored three runs in that inning, won the game, 6-0, then completed a four-game sweep of the Dodgers with a pair of 1-0 victories. The Davis game will always stand out for another reason. It was the last game Sandy Koufax would pitch.

Charlie Finley wanted Game 2 of the 1973 World Series to be the last game Mike Andrews played for Oakland after the second baseman committed two costly errors in the 12th inning. Finley coerced Andrews into saying he had a shoulder injury, and the owner replaced him on the roster. However, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn blocked the fraudulent move.Bill Buckner

The Athletics won the World Series, beating the Mets in seven games, despite Finley’s brazen interference. Eleven years later, the National League team that plays in the city where Finley lived, Chicago, was unable to overcome a critical error by the Cubs’ first baseman, Leon Durham, in the N.L. Championship Series.

The Cubs, who won the first two games, then lost the next two to San Diego, had a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning, eight outs from their first World Series since 1945. With one out and a runner at second, Tim Flannery hit a grounder to first. Seven outs away?

The ball rolled between Durham’s legs, and Carmelo Martinez scored the tying run. The Padres scored three more runs in the inning, won the game and took the Cubs’ place in the World Series.

Boston was already in the World Series in 1986 and was only a single out from winning the World Series for the first time since 1918. But the Mets rallied for three runs in the last of the 10th, Ray Knight scoring the deciding run when Mookie Wilson’s grounder rolled between Buckner’s legs.

That was Game 6. The Mets also won Game 7, forcing the Red Sox to wait 18 more years to win a World Series.

Buckner’s error is one of the most infamous post-season errors ever. What isn’t remembered as readily is Tim Teufel’s error that gave the Red Sox a 1-0 victory in the first game of that World Series.

Jim Rice was at second base with one out in the seventh, and Rich Gedman hit a grounder to second for what should have been the second out, but the ball skipped between Teufel’s legs and Rice raced home with what became the only run of the game.

 

BELTRAN IN GOOD COMPANY

Ryan Howard K 225Mets fans and some members of the news media have never forgiven Carlos Beltran for taking a third strike with the bases loaded for the final out of the Mets’ 3-1 loss to St. Louis in the 2006 National League Championship Series.

The diehard critics may not care, but in case they missed it, both league championship series this year ended with called third strikes, one more painful than the other and the equivalent of Beltran’s mortal sin.

First, with the Yankees behind the Rangers, 6-1, and no one on base, Alex Rodriguez watched strike three go by for the final out of the A.L.C.S. Then the next night the Phillies trailed the Giants, 3-2, and had runners at first and second when Ryan Howard took the third strike for the final out of their season.

 

FIRING OF A DIFFERENT SORT

Given the way George Steinbrenner dispatched hitting and pitching coaches if the Yankees didn’t win everything, Dave Eiland’s dismissal as their pitching coach seemed like just another in a decades-long line of such dismissals. The Yankees’ pitchers, including A.J. Burnett, had pitched poorly in the post-season series against the Rangers, and Burnett, whom the Yankees are paying $16.5 million a season, pitched poorly for much of the season.Dave Eiland 225

Somebody had to pay, and Eiland was in the position that usually pays for such transgressions.

However, general manager Brian Cashman said the pitching performance had nothing to do with Eiland’s departure. He insisted it didn’t. He did everything but swear on a bible, and he probably would have done that if someone had handed him one.

Cashman refused to say why he fired Eiland, but he apparently was being honest when he said it had nothing to do with the team’s pitching.

The dismissal, as it turns out, stemmed from the 25-day leave of absence Eiland was granted in June. Neither the coach nor the Yankees said why Eiland took the leave other than to say it was to take care of a personal matter.

The matter was serious enough that the Yankees told him he could return to his job as long as he didn’t resume any of the activities that led to his leave of absence. He didn’t adhere to the agreement and was fired. No one has spelled out those activities, and I will refrain from speculating.

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