This was a huge weight off the back of this franchise, as they had not even made the playoffs before, and then suffered through a season of heartbreaks before finally making the playoffs, and then the series. Much has been made of the draw which featured owners (and brothers) Chris and Keith Klein jumping around hugging and high-fiving when they discovered they were in a division with newcomer John Bryant. This turned out to be tremendously premature, as the brothers finished a mere 1 and 2 games ahead of Kobe, respectively. But this was probably the most balanced SL to date, as other than Yuma with 80 wins, and the cellar-dwelling absentee owner Saskatchewan team with 58 wins, the other 5 teams all won between 75-71 games, creating much playoff fever league-wide.
Much can be said about this Vedder team both as a team, and individually. They lead in Batting Average, On Base Pct., and steals. Pitching, they were solid throughout, without any stars, and their bullpen by committee lead the league in saves. They finished last in the league in fielding, but led in all SB given up categories, known as the Pudge-factor. Albert Belle won league MVP, as he led in Runs, RBI, and doubles, with a league record 70. Piazza led the league in Ave., hitting an astounding .332. Robbie Alomar led in triples with 9, and with Eisenreich tied for second in SB with 50. Jim Abbott, "Mr. Inconsistency" led with 5 shutouts, (including 3 in a row, presumably an SL record) but had just 10 wins total. Glavine was picked in the 3rd round, and finished a ridiculous 5-10 5.76. His only highlight for the season was his pinch single (Player Register take note!) , in a game that Iíll talk about later. Dave Veres was solid throughout, and led in Games and IP while posting an 11-10 2.11 with 12 saves out of the pen.
From a General Managerís standpoint, this was a very good season. In the free agent draft, I picked up Ruffin (20*), and Surhoff, both of whom were huge for me. Surhoff had 31 RBI, in just 121 plate appearances, and Ruffin was 4-2, 2.66 with 8 saves. I traded for Bagwell and Fryman to shore up my previously non-existent defense, and that really helped with my playoff run. Plus I was also a little lucky. Picking 4th in the draft, I wasnít sure who I was going to pick, but then was surprised by Kenís pick of Mesa, and Belle seemed the obvious choice. I then drafted poorly rounds 2-6, and 11, but made enough quality picks to overcome those.
*****LINEUP***** Starting Lineup for Game 1: For Game 133: 1.Eisenreich LF 1.Weiss SS 2. Belle RF 2. Sheffield RF 3. Piazza DH 3. Belle LF 4. Karros 1B 4. Jaha DH 5. Lankford CF 5. Bagwell 1B 6. Ventura 3B 6. Lankford CF 7. IRod C 7. Lockhart 2B 8. RAlomar 2B 8. IRod C 9. Vizquel SS 9. Fryman 3B
By the end of the season, I felt I really could go any way at any postion. If a good hitter had to sit at one spot, he could be replaced by a good fielder and stealer, and his bat would be replaced at another spot in the lineup.
*****PITCHING***** Starters Relievers Glavine 15 Ruffin 20 YW Hamilton 14 Z Tavarez 18 XZ Abbott 12 Z Veres 18 XZ Brown 12YZ Belinda 15 X Fernandez 12 YZ McMichael 15 XLooking back, both rotation and bullpen were solid top to bottom, but neither were spectacular, and their regular season numbers reflected that.
It was a long season, both literally and figuratively. It ran into November, and the series was actually played before Dan and Tommy had finished their seasons (they were mathematically eliminated). It was also long because in spite of our pre-season jubilation, Keith and I were fighting tooth and nail with John all season long, only to barely finish ahead of him. That game I remember most was game #88 for me vs. Keith. I won 3-2 in 16 innings, on Eric Karrosí 2nd homer(he would be traded 15 games later). This was also the game of the Glavine meaningless pinch-hit in the 15th. The funny thing was Keith used just 9 players (other than pitchers) all game. Somewhere along the line I invalidated my DH, and in the 8th and 9th spots in my order, I used a total of 14 guys. That seemed to be a microcosm of the season for me; do whatever I have to to win, and make it a whole team effort. Regardless of what I did, and what happened, in the end, it was worth it, as I got the coveted Cup.