Wed, Oct 18, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Why Taiwanese should watch the MLB playoffs

STAY TUNED Superstar Wang Chien-ming and second fiddle Kuo Hong-chih are out for the season. So there is no reason for anyone to keep watching. Or is there?

By Emily Shih  /  STAFF REPORTER

Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Kuo Hong-chih of Taiwan pitches during the first inning of Game 2 of the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York, last Thursday.

PHOTO: EPA

MLB PlayoffsIn this country, I have noticed one thing: When it comes to the topic of US baseball, there is only one team, and on that team, there is only one player. And that, of course, is the man they call Wang Chien-ming (王建民).

So with the Yankees definitively out for the season and the nation's back-up -- the Los Angeles Dodgers, by way of Kuo Hong-chih (郭泓志) -- done as well, what's Taiwan to do?

Take it from me -- keep watching. Or start watching again. Because even if it feels a little empty without Wang, there is still plenty to see.

1. The Detroit Tigers

In case you haven't heard, they're good again. Really good. After 11 years without a winning record, the Tigers find themselves in a most unfamiliar position: sitting pretty as AL champions, waiting for the World Series -- their first since 1984.

Since losing the first game of the first round to the Yankees, Detroit has won seven straight, which includes a four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics in the ALCS. For a team that holds the record for the most AL losses in a season (119 in 2003) and is also only the second team in MLB history to lose 100 games before September (also in 2003), that's not too shabby.

2. The NLCS

A series that many predicted would be a blowout has, in the first four games, proven to be the opposite. Despite the New York Mets having posted a league-high 97 wins in the regular season, while the St Louis Cardinals slipped in under the wire with a measly 83, the National League Championship series (NLCS) is tied at two games apiece, and no one should buy any tickets to Detroit just yet.

It is not only the outcome of the games but their nature that is keeping it interesting -- Game 1 was an unexpected pitcher's duel, Game 2 an unexpected batting contest, Game 3 an unexpected shut-out and Game 4 an unexpected blowout. Now the Game 1 pitchers are returning to the mound for a Game 5 that can only be expected to be, well, unexpected.

3. The Carlos and Carlos Show

In Game 4, Carlos Beltran tied an interesting record -- the one set by Babe Ruth in 1928 for the most home runs hit against the Cardinals in the postseason.

That number, in case you're wondering, is seven. Three were hit in this series, and four came against the Cards in the 2004 NLCS, back when Beltran used to play for the Houston Astros. Apparently following his lead now is his teammate Carlos Delgado, who has 9 RBIs in the series, including two 3-run homers. If the barrage continues, it is safe to say that the Cardinals have some hard work ahead of them.

4. The Pujols-Carpenter No-Show

The two players who ostensibly got St. Louis this far have been significantly insignificant in these first four games. Chris Carpenter, last year's NL Cy Young winner, gave a forgettable performance in Game 2, allowing five runs on six hits, including two home runs. Albert Pujols, last year's NL MVP, has similarly not been living up to his high standards, going four-for-14 in the series with no RBIs.

5. Unexpected Heroes

With Pujols and Carpenter slightly AWOL, how exactly is St. Louis winning its games? Well, get ready to hear a lot of unfamiliar names. In Game 2, utility man Scott Spiezio bailed Carpenter out by tying the game with a two-run triple, and backup outfielder So Taguchi blasted a home run in the top of the ninth to give the Cardinals the lead and, eventually, the win. It was Taguchi's second at-bat of the postseason, and his second home run. In Game 3, Spiezio contributed another two-run triple, but the real hero of the game was pitcher Jeff Suppan, who threw eight shutout innings, allowed only three hits, and then hit a home run of his own just for good measure. Suppan is only the fifth pitcher in history to hit a home run in an NLCS game.

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