Monday, October 27, 2008

Ken Rosenthal Misses the Point Entirely

I'm probably the only person who is pulling for the Philadelphia Phillies to win the World Series, but was hoping for the Tampa Bay Rays to tie Game Five and ensure its suspension. Why?

For one thing, I love the Series so more is better as far as I'm concerned. I'm currently rooting for Philadelphia because of a personal connection to the team, but I'm first and foremost a San Francisco Giants' fan. That means my desire to see more of the year's most intense baseball trumps my desire to see the Phils' win easily.

More importantly, it gives me a chance to address Ken Rosenthal's latest example of journalistic excellence without the complete benefit of 20/20 hindsight. I like that because I don't want to hide behind it.

I don't want it to look like I only have the guts to call someone out after an outcome gives me firmer ground on which to stand. The truth is, what Rosenthal has done is cowardly and wrong regardless of what happens when Game Five resumes. Still, this article will look much stronger if the Rays pull out a win and vice versa so to wait to see what happens would be Rosenthal-esque.

Anyway, to really understand my problem with his latest effort, you have to look at the progression of Ken's articles in concert with the progression of the World Series.

His first article appeared before the Series started. Actually, it was his second on the subject, but it's the one in which he made his pick so we'll call it the first. However, it bears mentioning the article that preceded it also spoke glowingly of the Tampa Bay Rays.

But back to the article where he picks the Rays to win. I don't really have any truck with it.

The opening's a little stale. The American League's superiority over the National League is less pronounced than it's been for the last several years and that angle's been worked to death. However, Rosenthal recovers immediately and thoroughly by making a reasonable argument (even if I think it is wrong) and incorporating self-deprecation in his pick of the Rays to soften the effect of the article's overall dismissive tone.

Kenny's second article, in which he reasserts his support for the Rays, is also very good.

Even after his Rays lost Game One at home, Ol' Kenny surprisingly sticks to his guns. He rightly points out that Tampa has good reason to hope. That Cole Hamels has been the Phillies' silver bullet all year, especially so in the postseason. That Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins continue to struggle. That Tampa's supporting staff is stronger behind Scott Kazmir than Philly's behind Hamels. That the Rays came close against the Phils' best horse.

Rosenthal was right to end that article by saying, "I refuse to believe this will end quickly. We're about to be treated to the most competitive Series in years."

His third article is more of the same. It isn't as good because his praise of David Price goes a little overboard (this was an important Game Two, still only Game Two). But I've got no real problem with it.

Rosenthal's fourth piece shows an all important yet subtle change.

It, too, is good. And I don't have a problem with Ol' Kenny's sudden switch of focus to Philadelphia. Jamie Moyer should have been the focus after Game Three, regardless of the stomach virus. The guy made his debut in 1986, for Pete's sake. But it does show Rosenthal's wheels at work; he is no longer trying to find positives for Tampa Bay. It was a prep piece.

Ken was simply tenderizing Tampa and his readers so that they were ready for the kill. And that's exactly what he moves in for after Game Four.

The title says it all - "The Rays Most Expected All Along Have Arrived."

The entire piece is premised on the idea that the Tampa Bay Rays are done. Finis. Stick a fork in 'em and cue the fat lady. Not only that, but most of the baseball world knew this moment was coming, they expected it.

I'm honestly laughing to myself as I try to figure out where to begin.

For starters, how about the fact that very few people still expected the Rays to collapse? I think the last few stragglers on that bandwagon bailed after Tampa's resurrection against Boston. Or after Vegas picked them to win. Or after they were widely welcomed as the ultimately-conquering favorites.

Furthermore, Rosenthal writes an entire "I-told-you-so" article about how the inevitable moment of Tampa Bay's demise has arrived. He does so without once mentioning that, actually, he spent four columns telling us not so. Telling us the Rays would win before the World Series started. Telling us they would still win after dropping the opener. And singing their praises, yet again, after taking Game Two.

Not only that, let's really examine Tampa's flickering moment of greatness and assured demise.

Rosenthal implies the Rays' meltdown in Game Four was actually larger; a total meltdown of confidence and ability rather than just the nine-inning variety. He says the Rays already look beaten. He says too much needs to change for the Rays to recover. And he seals it all by stamping their World Series with the adjective 'disappointing.'

All of which is totally and completely ridiculous.

In the same article that touts Tampa's season-long resilience in the face of tremendous odds, Ol' Kenny writes the Rays off because of a single bad game. Sure, veterans with playoff experience help in situations of autumn adversity. But there's also something to be said for just plain youthful exuberance and ignorance of the moment.

He says the Rays already look beaten.

They had just lost a World Series game 10-2. A game that saw numerous and costly errors. A game that saw the opposing pitcher hit the first homerun of his career. I think it might be a mistake to read too much into their mental state immediately after such a debacle. What about you?

Rosenthal says too much needs to change, that the Rays have too many leaks to plug.

Then he goes on to point out how everything that has gone wrong is a surprise; how the poor performances and errors are uncharacteristic of the culprits. Everything Rosenthal mentions indicates everything could snap back into line with expectations given the right nudge. Something that becomes even more significant given this pearl from Joe Maddon:

"When you don't hit, it infiltrates all the other things you do, from a position player's perspective. I'm sure it's wearing on some guys a bit, there's no denying that."

The AL Manager of the Year is saying that all the rattling wheels can be righted if they start to hit. It's no easy assignment given they were facing Hamels, but it's still not the monumental task of fixing every aspect of the team in one night. Kenny includes this bit of insight and proceeds to ignore its understated brilliance.

Rosenthal also ignores something a baseball nut should know about trailing a seven-game series 3-1 as the home team.

Consider that the biggest game in such a situation is Game Five. If you can stay alive in Game Five, you fly away trailing 3-2. You arrive home for Game Six where the crowd is amped up because they've been forced to watch the last three games on television and want to help stave off elimination. If you can ride that to Game Seven, the opposition must now face a home crowd going absolutely insane as well as the coordination-crushing pressure of letting a huge Series' lead slip away.

So Game Five in such a scenario is enormously significant to both teams because avoiding elimination starts a snowball effect of pressure that can evaporate that 3-1 lead before anyone realizes it's happened.

And yet it's far more immediately significant to the team down 3-1, which means they have a motivational advantage. That becomes almost insurmountable if they can deal with the pressure of facing elimination on the road. A huge if, but one that demands mention because "if they can deal with the pressure" has a history of becoming "they dealt with the pressure."

Finally, he closes the article with a true Ken Rosenthal flourish.

After calling special and specific attention to the struggles of Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria. After writing an entire article that is essentially a postmortem on the Rays World Series hopes despite a game remaining. Ken Rosenthal has the insulting audacity to say, "smart alecks who sneer 'they're done,' ridiculing Peña and Longoria, will miss the point entirely."

I could write for pages about what the above says about him, about how it fits perfectly with almost everything he writes. But I'd rather just let Rosenthal's words echo.

"Smart alecks who sneer 'they're done,' ridiculing Peña and Longoria, will miss the point entirely."

Yes, Ken, you do.

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