|Monday, October 21
Updated: October 22, 7:39 PM ET
Why all the runs? The balls are juiced, of course!
By Jayson Stark
SAN FRANCISCO -- Just when you thought this World Series couldn't get any wilder, now it's turned into an Oliver Stone movie.
But what should we call it? "Nine Innings in October?" . . . "Rocketball Street?" . . . "There's Something About Rawlings?"
Feel free to submit your suggestions. Because all of a sudden, the conspiracy theorists were combing Pac Bell Park on Monday, looking for signs that the official World Series baseball has been mysteriously altered.
We're not sure how this happened. All we know is, one minute, we were enjoying a laid-back, Steinbrenner-free postseason. The next minute, long balls were flying all over Anaheim, an 11-10 World Series game was breaking out, and Angels pitchers were sitting around their clubhouse, sawing baseballs in half.
"I can't tell you the explanation for this," said Angels closer Troy Percival, in the hours after the second-highest-scoring one-run game in World Series history. "But this ball is way harder than any ball I've ever thrown. This is the hardest ball I've ever seen."
Then again, if the pitchers were looking for alibis on assorted grassy knolls Monday, you could sure understand why.
Alas, Selig wasn't available for cross-examination Monday. But his trusty executive vice president for baseball operations, Sandy Alderson, made an appearance at Pac Bell to refute these allegations before any senators (or relief pitchers) had a chance to form an investigative subcommittee.
Alderson came prepared, impressively, with a complete genealogical history of this particular set of World Series baseballs:
They were manufactured at the Rawlings factory in Costa Rica between Sept. 1-14. A total of 500 dozen balls (6,000, if you're calculating along) were then tested and shipped to Missouri in late September. And last weekend, 60 dozen of those balls were sent to San Francisco, while another 120 dozen were airlifted to Anaheim.
Alderson contended that the only difference between these baseballs and the balls used during the regular season was a distinctive World Series stamp that was applied to them at Rawlings headquarters in Missouri. We're not sure how that stamp was applied, but after witnessing that 11-10 game, even Alderson couldn't resist at least one joke.
"It has a special stamp on it," he quipped, "that says, `Hit me.'"
Just kidding. Just kidding, folks. More officially speaking, Alderson said of these heinous charges: "We're not alarmed by what's going on. We're very confident in the balls and the consistency of their manufacture."
Well, we're sure glad he's confident, because players on both teams were busy casting definite aspersions on these innocent-until-proven-guilty baseballs.
Giants reliever Chad Zerbe, who threw four fine innings of relief Sunday (2 runs, 1 earned), said he was convinced these balls were smaller and harder and that "the leather was pulled a little bit tighter" than the balls he threw during the regular season.
Angels shortstop David Eckstein seconded the motion that the balls were "tight and small and hard."
"You can tell something's up," the diminutive Eckstein chuckled, "because even my balls were getting to the outfield."
And Giants reliever Tim Worrell admitted that he and Game 1 starter Jason Schmidt conducted an experiment Monday to see if they could tell the difference between regular-season balls and the World Series editions.
"I picked out the World Series ball from behind my back," said Worrell, who claimed he used to be able to tell the old National League baseballs from American League baseballs blindfolded with almost 100-percent accuracy. "I grabbed one. Then I told Jason, `Give me the other ball.' And I said, `That's the World Series ball.' I could tell. It just felt harder."
So that's multiple juiced-ball theorists on both sides. Which would seem like enough to raise a lot of eyebrows -- not to mention a lot of ERAs.
But in fairness, we need to reveal that it wasn't only employees of the commissioner and reps from the Rawlings factory who were skeptical of all this.
Eh, the hitters weren't exactly jumping on the old conspiracy bandwagon with both feet, either.
"What about that guy Frankie over there?" wondered Giants first baseman J.T. Snow. "That Frankie Rodriguez. Ask him if they were juiced. They didn't seem juiced when he was throwing them."
"It sounds like a typical thing a pitcher would say," scoffed the Angels' Tim Salmon, rebuffing any conspiratorial attempts to devalue his two-homer game Sunday.
"Don't they test those balls in Costa Rica?" Giants shortstop Rich Aurilia asked a media throng grilling him about the big Leathergate crisis. "If you guys want to take a quick trip down there and cut some balls open and let us know, that would be great. Of course, by that time, the Series would probably be over."
Giants hitters and pitchers alike seemed bemused by the news that the Angels had actually taken the trouble to saw a couple of balls in half Sunday night.
"Boy, that takes a lot of effort," said the Giants' Game 2 starter, Russ Ortiz, a guy who wanted no parts of this juiced-ball alibi despite a 37.80 World Series ERA. "I'd imagine they'd have to have a nice piece of equipment to do that."
"If I cut one open, I'd have no idea what to look for," Aurilia said. "All I know about the baseball is that if they throw it at me, I've got to hit it or catch it."
Not that Percival was claiming he had a Ph.D. in physics, either, you understand. But if you'd just given up a 900-foot home run to Barry Bonds, you'd be wondering, too.
"The seams are nice," Percival said of the World Series balls. "The leather is good. You can grip the ball fine. But it's tight. So when you hit it, it's going to go."
The Giants, though, weren't buying any conspiratorial explanations for Bonds' homer, either.
"You could throw a potato," Zerbe said, "and Barry would still hit it."
So there you have it. You had your points. You had your counterpoints. No one knows the truth except those women sewing the baseballs down in Costa Rica. And they weren't working out Monday.
Nevertheless, there's nothing America loves more than a good conspiracy theory. And we find that's especially true when we're all killing time (and attempting to write memorable prose) on those dreaded World Series travel days. But if there was, in fact, a conspiracy to add rocket fuel to the baseballs, ask yourself this:
"I don't know," Aurilia said, "unless they wanted longer games, to sell more TV spots."
Not a bad explanation, actually. But we can think of an even better explanation: 21 runs. In a World Series game. Funny how you never hear this stuff after those 2-1 games.
So we'll see if the conspiracy investigation keeps raging, as the Series shifts to Pac Bell -- a notorious pitcher's paradise -- for the next three games. We're betting you'll barely remember any of this talk by Thursday.
"I really can't see 21 runs being scored in a game here," Aurilia laughed, "unless there are about 50 or 60 singles."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.