The All-Star break is always a touch painful for me, and not just because I'm a National League fan.
Frankly, the American League's dominance in interleague play is far harder to digest. More importantly, as long as the Junior Circuit suffers the designated hitter, the competition between leagues for true superiority won't really be a "competition."
The Senior Circuit wins in a romp, but that's another matter entirely.
Most importantly, as has been pointed out by fellow Bleacher Report writers, the fuss over home-field advantage in the World Series is really much ado about nothing. The effect of languishing amid friendly confines doesn't seem to materialize into the same advantage on the diamond as it might on the hardwood in basketball or field in football.
Despite the Winter Classic's residence in AL cities since the gimmick was implemented in 2003, there has been an even split with three NL clubs taking home the Commissioner's Trophy.
So who really cares if one league dominates the other in an exhibition that the players don't seem to really care about for a reward that doesn't seem to mean much?
Nah, the break is painful because the official start of the second half is so tantalizingly close and there's no meaningful baseball to make the minutes fly by.
As it's prone to do during suffocating summer moments with no live baseball, my mind kept returning to the San Francisco Giants. This season could actually mark the return of an Orange and Black tinge to the postseason that so many of us die-hards hoped for back in the preseason. While day-dreaming about such niceties, the perpetual black cloud descended.
The 2002 World Series against the Anaheim Angels.
I've never written specifically about any of the seven games.
In truth, I've never studied a box score from that October, never watched a highlight, never even entertained a thought about the Series other than the ones I couldn't keep out. And my mind has a sterling defense grid (although its memory banks have haphazard leaks, so those first two might not be perfectly true).
But it's been almost seven years and the symmetry seemed appropriate—almost a year for each contest in the excruciating episode. So I figured it was time.
Of course, for una Gigante loyalist, the 2002 World Series basically means Game Six, and the phrase may as well be a four-letter word around the Bay Area.
Sure, there was a lot more to it—the first and only time wild card teams have met in the Series, the Giants looking for their first title since moving west, NoCal squaring off against SoCal, the [expletive] Rally Monkey symbolism, the emergence of a young rookie named John Lackey and another named Francisco Rodriguez, the literally inhuman feats of Barry Lamar Bonds, some genuinely exceptional baseball, the anguished cries coming from Los Angeles Dodger fans as they lurched from pan to fire and back, etc., etc.
Forget all that nonsense.
Actually, forget Game Seven as well—the fellas never had a chance. Not after the Baseball Gods tipped their collective hand the previous night.
This is about six nearly perfect innings of pitching from Russ Ortiz, two hits, a substantial dose of panic from Dusty Baker, and a big cloud of dust.
Close to 2,500 days haven't changed my mind nor dulled my conviction one bit.
On that Saturday, the 26th of October and two days before my 24th birthday, Russ Ortiz was still a viable ace and pitching like it. Over six frames, Ortiz had stifled an offense that had scored 31 runs in five previous games, limiting them to two hits.
Count 'em—one infield single to Tim Salmon in the fourth that was quickly erased by a twin-killing and another single to Adam Kennedy in the sixth.
The portly right-hander also threw a bone via walk to Troy Glaus in the second and another to Darin Erstad in the sixth.
It also bears mentioning that the Giants' hurler whiffed the second of his two strikeouts on the night in the bottom of the sixth to escape his self-imposed "jam."
Let me repeat that in more concise form—6 IP, 0 ER, 2 BB, 2 H, 2 K, against an offense that was averaging over six runs per game in five World Series games.
The cherry atop the baseball sundae was San Francisco's four-run lead. A cushion that would bloat to five before our nine took the field for the fateful bottom of the seventh. While the Gents would survive that frame with a diminished lead of two runs, the postseason war was lost in those three outs.
Sadly, it's Dusty Baker's fault, and Baker is one of my favorite managers of all time so it gives me very little pleasure to say that. Even more unfortunately, it's the awful truth.
Ortiz retired Garret Anderson to start the inning on a meek ground ball. Then came a hit from Glaus (the Series' Most Valuable Player) and another from the immortal Brad Fullmer. That made six baserunners in 19 outs for Russ, which was apparently one too many for Bake.
Out he trundled, with his toothpick and a game ball for his pitcher in mind, to yank the starter and bring in...Felix Rodriguez. F-Rod or Fraud, whichever you (dis)like.
In defense of both Dusty and Felix, it's easy to forget Rodriguez was astounding in 2000 and 2001—one of the best relievers in all of baseball. Of course, it's easy to forget because Pauper Felix did his best to make us all do just that.
And it had already started by the time the hard-throwing righty wound up with a full count and one out in the seventh inning of Game Six. The reliever had coughed up a deciding two-run home run to Tim Salmon in the eighth inning of Game Two.
Even so, the regression took on a new dimension when Felix served up the coup de grace of the 2002 playoffs, a three-run bomb to Scott Spiezio. Against the very first batter Rodriguez faced, the man one has to assume Dusty Baker specifically wanted his flame-thrower to face.
That will go down as one of the less enjoyable moments in my life.
I bore the indignity of actually being in Los Angeles for a family friend's wedding so I was near the heart of the beast. It really seemed like you could hear/feel the explosion from the stadium in Anaheim, even though I was in Santa Monica. The crowd went understandably bonkers, as did the Angel fans, who were suddenly everywhere, at the party.
This was pandemonium, not Panda-monium.
To his credit, Felix Rodriguez gritted through it to fan pinch-hitter Orlando Cabrera before Baker replaced him with Scott Eyre. The southpaw faced the left-handed Kennedy, who promptly singled.
Eyre would be burnt without recording an out and having faced only the single batter in favor of Tim Worrell, who would get out of the seventh and then implode to take the loss in the eighth.
In that frame, Dusty Baker myopically found himself painted into a corner and paralyzed by the same fear that panicked him to overreaction the previous inning. With two of his favorite relievers spent and Robb Nen's arm dangling by its last remaining fibers, he stuck with...Tim Worrell.
After an Erstad solo tater made it 5-4 to start the inning. After a single by Tim Salmon. Finally, a third consecutive hit by Anderson that resulted in runners on second and third (the former due to an error by Bonds in left field) convinced Dusty maybe Tim wasn't the man for the job.
So in walked the sacrificial lamb (Nen) with his arm reduced to about the equivalent of mine and the unenvious task of retiring the aforementioned Troy Glaus.
The rest doesn't need much discussion because the damage was already done—both on the scoreboard and to the San Francisco psyche. Glaus doubled home both runners for the winning margin and Troy Percival, at or near the height of his powers, slammed the door.
Baker elected to start Livan Hernandez over Kirk Rueter in Game Seven, but who cares?
As I said, the Baseball Gods don't dangle the World Series like that—five-run lead, eight outs to go, and one of your best pitchers working on a two-hitter—then snatch it away so cruelly, only to ultimately grace you with their most generous gift.
Not by a long shot.
They only make it worse, like by having Woody enter Game Seven after the Angels took a lead against Hernandez and having the lucky lefty throw four scintillating innings. Or by allowing three rookies to throw eight innings of one-run ball on the Show's biggest possible stage against your favorite team.
There is no question, the San Francisco Giants' dreams of a World Series in 2002 ended during those last eight outs of Game Six.
And it was flat-out wrong to run Hernandez out of town while blaming him for not being able to deliver Game Seven. For not being able to turn back the tide of momentum and emotion unleashed by his manager. For not being able to beat the Baseball Gods at their own game.
For not being able to do the impossible. Shame on you, Livan.
Nope, shame on you, Dusty Baker.
For not giving Russ Ortiz the kind of leash you gave Tim Worrell.
For not considering the implications of Robb Nen's limp noodle.
For playing musical chairs with your bullpen in the seventh.
And for costing the San Francisco Giants and their fans a life-long season of glory.
Let the healing begin.