By HAL McCOY
This is the Chinese Year of the Pig. And the Chinese also celebrate years of the rat, ox, rabbit and dragon, among others.
Are we not certain that this might really be the Chinese Year of the Home Run?
Back before political correctness evolved, any cheap home run, one hit down the line just inside the foul pole that landed in the first row, was referred to as a Chinese home run.
Those aren’t Chinese home runs being blasted this season, many of them hit in August that haven’t landed yet. During the regular 2019 season the 30 major league teams slaughtered 6,776 home runs, 671 more than the previous record.
And it has continued into the post-season.
It was all about The Long Ball Sunday afternoon in the Tampa Bay-Houston and the Atlanta-St. Louis division series.
Both the Rays and the Cardinals, facing elimination from the playoffs, saved their seasons with hefty use of baseball’s ultimate weapon, the home run.
It was Tampa Bay 10, Houston 3. And it was St. Louis 5, Atlanta 4 in 10 innings. The winning teams hit seven home runs. The losing teams hit only two.
Tampa Bay, down two games to none to the Houston Astros in the American League Division Series, drilled four home runs en route to its 10-3 victory. Three came off Houston starter Zack Greinke.
Of course, Houston struck first — a first-inning home run by Jose Altuve.
Then Tampa Bay adjusted its launch angle and went homer-happy.
Kevin Kiermaier ripped a three-run home run in the second to give the Rays a 3-1 lead. Ji-Man Choi crushed a two-out homer in the third and Brandon Lowe led a four-run fourth with a home run.
Then to put a large candle on top of the cake, Willy Adames homered off Wade Miley in the sixth.
The Cardinals, down two games to one in the best of five National League Division Series, hit three early home runs to aid their 5-4 victory. They treated Braves starter Dallas Keuchel rudely in the first four innings with three home runs, two by Marcell Ozuna.
Paul Goldschmidt started it in the first with a home run and Ozuna, the next batter, also put one into the heavily-bombarded outfield seats.
Ozuna struck again in the fourth, crashing another long-distance home run to give the Cardinals a 3-1 lead.
But, hey, the Braves now how to hit ‘em far, too. Down 3-2 in the fifth, Atlanta’s Ozzie Albies cleared the right field wall to give the Braves a 4-3 lead.
The Cardinals kept waiting for that next home run, with the bullpen holding the Braves at bay. Relief pitcher Ryan Helsley struck out the side in the top of the eighth.
The Cardinals had Kolten Wong and home run hitters Goldschmidt and Ozuna ready for the bottom of the eighth to face Atlanta’s Josh Tomlin, who pitched a 1-2-3 seventh.
Wong swung at the first pitch and hit a ground ball to second. Atlanta manager Brian Snitker brought in Shane Greene in hopes of keeping Goldschmidt and Ozuna inside the fences.
Goldschmidt turned his bat into fireplace material, breaking it, but he pulled a double into the left field corner.
That brought up Ozuna, who hit half-a-home run (a double) in Game One off Greene. This time Ozuna took a called third strike.
Did the Braves forget about Yadier Molina. How could they? On the first pitch, Molina lined one just over the glove of leaping first baseman Freddie Freeman, a game-tying single, 4-4.
Molina struck again in the 10th inning, not with a home run, not with a hit, but with a walk-off sacrifice fly.
Kolten Wong led the 10th with a ground rule double to left. Goldschmidt was walked intentionally. Ozuna hit into a fielder’s choice that left runners on third and first with one out against Atlanta’s Julio Teheran.
Just as he did in eighth, Molina picked on the first pitch and drove a deep fly ball to left fielder Adam Duvall. Wong tagged and crossed the plate to save the Cardinals’ season for at least one more game.