Baseball: Atlanta's pitching can prevail in the year of big hitters
Known for his commentary on international relations and US politics, Rupert Cornwell also contributes obituaries and occasionally even a column for the sports pages. With The Independent since its launch in 1986, he was the paper's first Moscow correspondent - covering the collapse of the Soviet Union – during which time he won two British Press Awards. Previously a foreign correspondent for the Financial Times and Reuters, he has also been a diplomatic correspondent, leader writer and columnist, and has served as Washington bureau editor. In 1983 he published God's Banker, about Roberto Calvi, the Italian banker found hanging from Blackfriars Bridge.
Wednesday 01 October 1997
This time the pursuers came close. But for all the new and hitter-friendly ball parks, sluggers who are bigger and stronger than ever before, allegedly juiced balls and a league-wide shortage of quality pitching, baseball's blue riband remains in the hands of Roger Maris for yet another year.
On Sunday, in the last game of the regular season, Mark McGwire of the St Louis Cardinals clubbed his 58th homer; a day earlier Ken Griffey Junior had swatted his 56th for the Seattle Mariners. Both marks were the best in 36 years, but still short of the 61 Maris struck in 1961 when he and Mickey Mantle, who hit 54 that year, gave the New York Yankees the most lethal one-two punch in the history of the sport.
But if Griffey failed in his individual quest, the Mariners collectively ran up 264 homers, beating by seven the team record established only last year by the Baltimore Orioles. In the process they captured their second American League West division title in three years and set themselves up as dark horses to go all the way.
In the AL Central, the Cleveland Indians prevailed for the third straight year, while in the East the Orioles and the Yankees again dominated - except that, for the first time since their world championship year of 1983, it was Baltimore who came out on top. The Orioles, moreover, led on every day of the season, a feat accomplished only six times in baseball history. On each occasion bar one, that team went on to win the World Series.
The Yankees, however, will consider themselves fortunate to have come second. The wild card place brings them up against Cleveland, no pushover but a less daunting proposition than Seattle, where Baltimore open October hostilities tonight. Can the Orioles' hitters handle Randy Johnson, he of the 100mph fastball and the most intimidating starting pitcher in the majors? And will Seattle's sluggers be defanged by Baltimore's bullpen, by common consent the best in the business? The sub-plots are fascinating. Regular-season form favours the O's, but the smart money likes Seattle.
However, as in 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1996, it will be a huge surprise if Atlanta fail to win the National League pennant. The Braves were the only team to win 100 games in the regular season, for which they have been rewarded by a first-round match-up with the Houston Astros, an earth- bound bunch indeed, but the least-bad team in a dire NL Central.
As usual Atlanta's trump card is its pitching, and a post-season starting rotation of three former Cy Young winners, augmented by rookie Denny Neagle whose regular season of 20 wins and just four losses may earn him the 1997 prize. The Braves' toughest challenge may come from the wild- card Florida Marlins, who should edge the San Francisco Giants in the first round. Alas, the second round of play-offs, for the league championship pennant, is best of seven. Five-game series can be dodgy, but over seven Atlanta's class should be decisive.
And so to the Series. Last year the Yankees used up a decade's quota of miracles by first defeating Baltimore, thanks in part to the less than divine intervention of Jeff Maier. He, it will be remembered, was the 12-year-old fan who leant out over the right-field fence at Yankee Stadium to catch an innocuous fly ball. Wrongly, the umpire called it a home run, a mistake which would turn the game and the AL Championship Series. Then they reversed a 0-2 deficit to amaze everyone - including themselves - and defeat the Braves 4-2 in the World Series.
Will it be deja vu all over again in 1997? Maybe. The Yankees are the team in form, having won their last eight regular-season games. But something says Seattle. In the World Series though, good pitching almost always beats good hitting. Atlanta, incontrovertibly, are baseball's team of the decade, and the real surprise is that they've only one world championship to show for it. Come the end of the month, it ought to be two.
Geoffrey Macnab reviews American Hustle, also starring Christian Bale and Bradley Cooper
newsFormer soldier taped 33 of the animals to the floor and then stamped on them one by one
Michelle Nijhuis' daughter insists (s)he is, and she learnt a valuable lesson on gender in books
news Opponents claim it would stop performers such as Beyonce and Madonna appearing on TV
It takes a platoon of chefs, litres of brandy and rum, and almost 100kg of dried fruit
food + drink
Latest in Sport
- 1 America's 'virgin births'? One in 200 mothers 'became pregnant without having sex'
- 2 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 3 Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
- 4 Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
- 5 Children evacuated from swimming pool after prosthetic leg mistaken for paedophile
Exclusive: Young people ‘want UK to stay in Europe’: Four in 10 adults aged 18 to 24 are ‘firmly in favour’ of membership, poll shows
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
PM denies two child limit for benefits is part of Tory welfare policy
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: QA .NET Agile UNIX LIN...
£35000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: C# ASP.NET SQL Develop...
Negotiable: Harrington Starr: C# .NET SQL Developer (Software Developer, Softw...
£500 - £650 per day: Harrington Starr: Excellent opportunity for Murex Subject...