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Pirates, Royals could pass Marlins for longest playoff drought; Don Denkinger redux

 KANSAS CITY -- If the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals end their long dry spells to reach the postseason, they'll push the Marlins closer to the bottom on the list of teams that have gone the longest without playing October baseball.

The Pirates, who are leading the National League Central, appear to be in the best shape to end their playoff drought, which goes back to 1992. The streaking Royals, who improved to 19-5 since the All-Star break with last night's 6-2 victory over the Marlins, are on the fringe of contention in both the A.L. Central and wild-card races. The Royals have gone the longest -- since 1985 -- without appearing in the playoffs.

The Marlins, of course, last reached the postseason in 2003 when they won the World Series.

Other than the Pirates and Royals, the only other teams that have endured longer dry spells than the Marlins are the Toronto Blue Jays (1993) and Seattle Mariners (2001). All other 25 major league teams have made at least one postseason appearance since 2003.

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While the Marlins are aware of Jose Dariel Abreu, the slugger from Cuba who has reportedly defected to Haiti, it's highly questionable that they would spend the kind of money it would take to sign him. Abreu is expected to command a sizeable contract, somewhere in the range of $45 million for six years, according to ESPN's Jim Bowden.

Bowden went on to speculate that the Marlins are "expected to go all out on Abreu," by I'm hearing that is unlikely to be the case given the financial constraints.

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Chris Coghlan will begin his rehab assignment on Wednesday with Single A Jupiter and play third base for five innings, according to Marlins manager Mike Redmond.

Redmond said that if all goes well, Coghlan could be back in uniform with the Marlins on Sept. 1.

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The Marlins' visit to Kauffman Stadium has brought back special memories for me. The last time I stepped foot in the place was in 1985 when I was a spectator for Game 6 of the World Series between the Royals and Cardinals.

Yes, the Don Denkinger game.

How I scored the ticket and who I accompanied is another story. I was working at the Wichita Eagle-Beacon at the time as a features writer and was assigned to write a profile on Bill James, who was living in a small northeast Kansas town and was just beginning to make a name for himself as a pioneer in sabermetrics. His "Bill James Baseball Abstract" had crossed over into the mainstream, but he was living somewhat reclusively in a humble home in the middle of nowhere.

At any rate, I interviewed James at his home for the story during the off day before Game 6. After wrapping up, he told me he had an extra ticket to sell for Game 6 if I was interested, and I gladly took him up on the offer. It was an upper deck seat on the third base side, but I wasn't complaining. The World Series is the World Series, and there's not a bad seat in what is arguably one of the best ballparks in the majors. James told me I would be sitting with him, which made it even better.


ArmbristerIt was only the second World Series game I had ever attended. The first was Game 3 of the 1975 World Series between the Reds and Red Sox. My father and I had upper deck seats in center field at Riverfront Stadium, so that vantage point wasn't exactly the best. But that game involved a controversial play that was replayed repeatedly for days. The Reds' Ed Ambrister dropped down a sacrifice bunt in the 10th, hesitated coming out of the box and caused what the Red Sox argued to be interference with Boston catcher Carlton Fisk. No call was made. The play stood, and the Reds won in the 10th.

Fast forward to 1985. The Cards held a 3-2 Series edge and took a 1-0 lead into the ninth when all heck broke loose. The Royals' Jorge Orta tapped a slow roller to first baseman Jack Clark, who flipped to Todd Worrell covering first. Orta looked out. Even from where James and I were sitting, he looked out. Replays would later confirm that Orta was definitely out. But Denkinger called him safe, the Royals rallied for two runs in the ninth for the victory, and they went on to defeat the Cardinals in Game 7 to capture the Series.

I don't remember a whole lot about the game -- or any specific conversation I had with James -- other than the Denkinger call. Both of us agreed immediately it looked like Denkinger had blown it, but the game turned so suddenly at that point that we dropped the discussion and turned our attention to what was happening on the field and the walkoff celebration that soon occurred.

It was the last time, until now, that I've been in the same ballpark where it all took place. I haven't seen or spoken to James since.

Here's the play (and below that is the story I wrote on James,courtesy of the Wichita Eagle):

Saturday, October 26, 1985 Edition: CITY EDITION Section: SPORTS Page: 1D Source: CLARK SPENCER, STAFF WRITER

Dateline: WINCHESTER IT ADDS UP STATISTICAL WHIZ SAYS NUMBERS POINT AGAINST ROYALS IN SERIES

.196.

It is the pathetic batting average of the St. Louis Cardinals, the team one victory shy of a World Series championship.

The number intrigues Bill James, oft-called the statistical genius of baseball.

He opens a baseball record book, then begins poring over Series statistics from past years, comparing championship teams with their Series batting averages.

"Baltimore in '83 hit only .213 and won the Series," he says. "Hmmm. This is interesting. The '74 A's hit .211, the '73 A's hit .212 and the '72 A's hit .209. ''Baltimore in '66 hit .200. L.A. hit .214 in '63. The '62 Yankees hit .199."

Enough already. James is in love with numbers. While the Series had a day off Friday, he was busy at home fiddling with baseball statistics. His latest numbers will be included in the 10th edition of "The Bill James Baseball Abstract" - a book that has made him something of a cult figure among baseball fanatics, particularly those who thrive on numbers.

JAMES LIVES in an old two-story house with a leaky roof in a quiet neighborhood about a 90-minute drive across the Kansas state line from Royals Stadium.

Wearing a blue plaid shirt, brown corduroys and blue slippers, James sat casually in his living room rocker and flipped through spiral notebooks full of figures and began offering his analysis of the Series thus far.

First the Royals, alive in the Series but barely.

''They're good when they absolutely have to win," James says. "They're good, smart veteran players, but they don't have that World Series ring. To me, the defining characteristic of the team is its experience."

James gives the Royals about a 40 percent chance of winning the last two games of the Series and the championship. He takes into consideration the Royals' home-field advantage and the 25 percent random chance of winning two in a row, among other factors. (In case you're wondering, James doesn't include momentum as a factor. "Momentum exists only when it's gone," he says.)

IF THE Royals should win tonight's sixth game, he thinks they would have a very good chance of beating John Tudor, expected to pitch the seventh game for the Cardinals if it goes that far.

''When I think of Tudor, I think of (Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis) Tiant in '75. He pitched two outstanding games (like Tudor already has) but the Reds got to him in the third game. Tudor plays a constant guessing game. All you'd have to do is guess right three times a game against him and you'd get him."

Through the first five games, the Cardinals have been somewhat of a statistical anomaly. St. Louis has a worse batting average, a worse earned run average and has scored fewer runs than the Royals.

Yet, the Cardinals are ahead in the key category, games won.

''I think the team that scores more runs in the Series wins it 85 percent of the time. That may not happen this year."

James attributes the Cardinals' success to many things, one of them being the ability of the team's hitters at the bottom of the order to get on base. He thinks that's been a key to the team's knack for making late-inning comebacks during the season and playoffs.

THE LOSS of Cardinals rookie speedster Vince Coleman to the dreaded tarp roller in the National League playoffs has not seriously affected the team, he says. But then, James isn't completely sold on Coleman as a leadoff hitter, anyway. "I have the thought that Coleman is not that beneficial to the team as a leadoff man. Coleman's on-base percentage this year was about .320, which was one of the lowest on the team. If you look at the runs scored by leadoff men during the season, the Cardinals would probably be one of the three or four bottom teams in the league."

Then there's the matter of opposing pitchers, who have gotten into the habit of walking George Brett. It doesn't bother James a bit.

''I think Brett was intentionally walked 31 times this year, and it almost never worked. If they just keep walking George Brett, it's eventually going to beat you."

ON THE controversy surrounding Royals Manager Dick Howser's decision to leave Charlie Leibrandt in during a disastrous ninth inning in Game 2, James first offers his definition for the word "blunder."

''You have to think of what is a blunder. It's an unconventional decision at a moment of the game that turns out badly. There are probably 40 factors that would play upon that decision (to remove a pitcher). Nobody in the world could calculate all that stuff. But what all of us know is what an unconventional decision is. It just seemed to me he (Howser) just sort of had a tunnel-vision approach to the inning."

James also can't understand why the Series is being described as boring.

''I don't chew my nails, but if I did, they'd be gone. It's been a very tense Series to me." Finally, James thinks the Royals have "a good chance of winning it all."

Then again, James is a Royals fan.

Comments

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georgeB

good stuff Clark

flagstaffishfan

Thank you for sharing Clark. Solid

Marlin Fan

Marlins are painful to watch . Another wasted pitching performance . Next year if the marlins need a third baseman , catcher , etc ?, who from the outfield and what pitching prospects go ????

Stan M

Rich and Tommy used two of my questions on last nights telecast (Stan&Stan...thanks for not saying "good piece of hitting," etc) but skipped the one I really wanted answered. See if any of you might know. A Rod is playing and appealing his 200+ game suspension. If he plays the rest of this year...and his appeal is refused...how many games must he then forfeit? In other words, do these games he's now playing lessen his punishment even if he looses his appeal?

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