Well, guess what? I was dead wrong about that. The Dodgers were nothing like the '06 Cardinals. What was my first clue, you ask? How about when they got their asses handed to them by the Phillies? So very un-champion behavior.
However, all is not lost. We have been treated to a very nice rehashing of the '06 World Series, and we didn't need the Dodgers to do it. What, you don't believe me? The similarities are stunning.
First-to-worst then right back down -- In 2006, you had the Tigers going from a terrible record the year before to a 95-win season. They were seemingly energized by the emergence of a rookie phenom by the name of Justin Verlander. It was one of the best stories you could possibly imagine; the return of baseball to Motown. Detroit made it all the way to the World Series, then suddenly forgot how to catch the ball, forcing highlight reel editors everywhere to dig up old music from the Benny Hill show.
Prior to this year, the Rays were the doormat of the league, never even winning 80 games in a season. Then, out of nowhere, a young rookie phenom by the name of Evan Longoria emerged and became the Blazing Sword to the Rays' Voltron, allowing them to slay both Roe Beast and Red Sock alike. They catapulted to the top of the standings, prompting comparisons to the 1969 Mets team that brought home a title to Gotham after nearly a decade of brutal incompetence.
Alas, come Series time, the Rays, too, have seemingly forgotten how to do some pretty basic things, like catch the damn ball. Akinori Iwamura, ordinarily one of the surest-handed fielders in all of baseball, had a ball clang off his wrist in Game 4, prompting highlight reel editors everywhere to immediately hire Bob Saget to add commentary to the clips.
Who the $&% is that? -- Do you remember who got the win in the final game of the '06 Series? Yep, that's right. Jeff Weaver. Nope, that wasn't a tragic peyote accident; that shit really happened. Jeff Weaver. Cards picked him up at mid-season after he sucked his way right out of Anaheim, watched him mostly suck for a couple of months here, then promptly turn into The Stoned Avenger in the postseason.
This year, you've got Joe Blanton. The Phillies picked him up at the trade deadline after a brutal half season in Oakland. He was okay down the stretch, but still Joe Blanton. In the World Series, though? Channeling the spirits of every fat kid ever picked last in gym class, Blanton stuck it to the handsome, svelte Rays, winning both the game and Molly Ringwald's heart in the process.
The only real problem here is that Blanton can't possibly leave the Phillies for the highest bidder following his postseason heroics; ol' Joe isn't eligible for free agency for another three years. Still, I look forward to a very ugly arbitration hearing for Blanton, as the Phillies are probably looking to sign him for somewhere in the $5 million neighborhood, while Blanton himself is thought to be holding out for $7 million and a real chin.
The blood of a child -- Stem cells. That's right, everybody, stem cells. Back in 2006, we had Jeff Suppan going on television and telling everyone how wrong stem cell research was, tossing around the brimstone and the Catholic guilt both. This year, we have 45-year-old Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer, who is kept alive only by a machine that distills the essence of a thousand orphan children each day into a black, viscous liquid which Moyer then injects directly into the decaying ruin of his heart. Coincidence? I think not.
A collapsing offense -- In 2006, the Tigers had one of the most potent offenses in the entire game. They had depth up and down the lineup, with Brandon Inge hitting over 30 home runs while batting primarily in the 9 spot in the order. The Detroit attack, though, was driven largely by the players at the top, with guys like Curtis Granderson, Ivan Rodriguez, and Placido Polanco terrorizing pitchers, especially in the postseason. Apparently the beginning of the Series presented some sort of event horizon for all of them, though, because those three hitters, who had batted .329 in the postseason up until that point, went 3-for-1,000 in the World Series. (Note: this statistic may not be accurate.) Sean Casey and Carlos Guillen went absolutely crazy, hitting .529 and .353 respectively, but it simply wasn't enough to overcome the complete disappearance of the Tigers' offensive engine.
Here in 2008, we have the previously mentioned Mr. Longoria and Carlos Pena driving one of the league's most dynamic offenses, providing the thunder to complement the speed and creativity of Iwamura and B.J. Upton. Longoria has been an absolute monster in the postseason, setting a new all time record for most home runs by a player in his first postseason. Unfortunately for Tampa fans, the World Series has brought almost shockingly poor performances from both of their primary run producers. After game 4, the tandem of Longoria and Pena was a combined 0-29, with 15 strikeouts against only 3 walks (all by Pena), for the World Series. Carl Crawford has stepped up his game, flashing some power, and Upton single-handedly tied game three in the eighth inning, stealing bases left and right before scoring on a throwing error, but when your three and four hitters don't have a hit between them in almost thirty at bats, it just ain't gonna happen.
Fatal Attraction all over again -- Finally, what we have here is a case of two teams that maybe, just maybe, came in a little bit pissed off that they were being ignored. The Tigers had the great story; the huge turnaround in Jim Leyland's first year as skipper, the Rookie of the Year kid pitcher with the golden arm, the return of baseball to one of its first great bastions, the city of Ty Cobb and Denny McLean and Ernie Harwell, legends all. The Cardinals? Well, they had "Tigers in Three," the now-infamous prediction of one national sports scribe. And the Cardinals were pissed.
The Rays have the '69 Mets. They have a decade of futility, a crap ballpark and inept ownership all turning around at once. The Rays might have looked into beginning a campaign to get people to call them the "A-Rays-ins," echoing that '69 Mets teams' nickname of the "Amazins." They even looked into getting the California Raisins to come out of retirement and help with their ad campaign, only to discover that two of the Raisins are in prison for running a prostitution ring. Still a great story, and the one that has really captured the imagination of the public. You can't really complain, either; Tampa Bay this year was pretty much the closest thing to the Bad News Bears that you're ever going to actually get in professional sports. Who wouldn't fall for that story?
And the Phillies have, well, they don't have "Rays in Three," or anything quite like that, but they've got quite a chip on their collective shoulder nonetheless. Is anyone paying attention to the Phillies? To be honest, no, they're not.
Well, Phillies fans are paying attention, of course, but that's really only so that they know at whom to throw the batteries. And guess what? The Phillies seem to be a little bit pissed too. Well, maybe a little bit more than a little bit.
So, one just has to ask: do the Rays have a chance to stave off elimination and avoid completing the comparison? Time will tell, I suppose, but I have to say, I really don't like their chances. Come to think of it, maybe I can help 'em out a little. I have a prediction to make. Are you listening, Tampa Bay?
Phillies in zero. That's right. They'll close it out in zero games. How you feel now, Tampa? Huh? Phillies in none.
Now let's see how this ends up.