Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Tony, Albert, and Aaron

Let's face it. The second Aaron Rowand stepped up to the plate in the 9th inning of the All Star Game with two outs and the bases loaded, you knew it was over. You knew he wouldn't come through, that the NL was doomed once again despite a stirring ninth inning comeback.

You knew this for two reasons. One, Aaron Rowand is a Phillie, and the last time a Phillie came up big in a clutch situation like that, it was Roger Mason in the 1993 NLCS. Two, he's Aaron Rowand. Moments like that - two outs, bottom of the ninth, K-Rod on the mound, bases loaded, down by one - aren't made for the Aaron Rowands of the world.

Nothing against Aaron Rowand, mind you. He's a fine player having a fine year. He plays hard, plays great defense, and has that all-important "willing to set himself on fire to catch a ball" quotient that Philly fans love. But, a fine player is all he is, and there was a much better than fine player sitting on the bench. You know, some guy named Pujols.

Now, forget about the conspiracy theories that Tony LaRussa wanted to put the NL manager after him at a disadvantage in the World Series. Forget about Pujols supposedly metamorphosing, Hulk-like, into an incredible jerk over the last couple of years. What his outburst sounded like to me was the squawking of a guy who wanted to win, who thought he gave his team the best chance to win, and who wasn't allowed to help his team win.

Because Albert Pujols, arguably the best hitter on the planet, is made for moments like that. Forget worrying about who would play where in the 10th if they tied it. Odds were, it wasn't going to be a tie. A single would bring home two runs - game over. An out, and it's over. The only way Pujols gets just one run home is if he bunts, and even Tony LaRussa isn't dumb enough to do that.

At least, not most of the time.

But as much as watching the NL lose again grinds my tooth enamel when they could have had a better shot to win, that's not what really grinds my tooth enamel. No, the All-Star Game is an exhibition. A show. A chance to see the best against the best. And we could have had that - K-Rod against Albert, bottom of the ninth, all the marbles on the line. That would have been an All-Star moment for the ages.

Instead, we got Aaron Rowand.
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