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Darling: It's still baseball, but it's a different game

By CNN staff
Former pitcher Ron Darling says the results of this year's baseball playoffs show the game is changing radically
Former pitcher Ron Darling says the results of this year's baseball playoffs show the game is changing radically
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ron Darling says it's amazing how well so many pitchers have performed in playoffs
  • He says Rangers' celebration after winning division series was special moment
  • Rangers celebrated with ginger ale so star Josh Hamilton, a recovering addict, could join
  • Darling says players who can hit but not field well will have a hard time making major leagues
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Editor's Note: Ron Darling pitched 13 years in the major leagues and won a World Series with the New York Mets in 1986. He's also author of 2009's "The Complete Game: Reflections on Baseball, Pitching, and Life on the Mound." He will be an analyst on TBS' coverage of the American League Championship Series beginning Friday night.

(CNN) -- Baseball's League Championship Series' start Friday with the New York Yankees taking on the Texas Rangers for the American League title. The winner will go to the World Series against the victor in the National League Championship series between the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants.

The Phillies-Giants series starts Saturday and will be televised on Fox.

TBS analyst Ron Darling spoke to CNN about compelling people and stories that will interest even the most casual fans and about how the baseball we'll be watching is radically different than the game we saw just a few years ago.

This is an edited transcript:

CNN: Has this been an extraordinary post-season for pitching, or does it always improve in the playoffs?

Ron Darling: I think what has been extraordinary is that all the pitchers, whether they came through trades (Phillies with Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt; Texas with Cliff Lee) or up through the farm system like the San Francisco Giants, or a free agent like CC Sabathia in New York, the great thing about it is they all deliver.

Sometimes the great Braves pitchers would falter during the '90s, but none of these guys has faltered. In fact they're having some of the greatest games in the history of post-season play. Whether it's Tim Lincecum's 14 strikeouts, Cliff Lee and his ability to throw complete games and strike out hitters without walking anybody, and of course Roy Halladay's no-hitter.

CNN: What were your thoughts on the Texas Rangers celebrating their division series win over Tampa Bay with ginger ale instead of champagne because their star, Josh Hamilton, is recovering from drug and alcohol abuse?

Darling: I thought it was one of the special moments of the post-season. There are a lot of people affected by alcoholism and drug addiction in this country, and a lot of people feel alone in their battle against those two addictions. And to see an entire ball club get behind their player's problem and have empathy and sympathy for his problems was just one of the special things.

Remember their manager (Ron Washington) tested positive last season (for cocaine). They could have abandoned the manager; instead, it brought them closer together. They've been one of the great stories and to know that they wanted one of their best players to celebrate in the clubhouse because they knew he could only do it with ginger ale to me is a just a beautiful gesture.

CNN: You played with Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry, who both struggled with addiction. How hard has it been for Josh Hamilton to overcome his addiction to play so well?

Darling: I think trying to battle addictions is hard enough if you're working 9-5 and you've got a family and you're trying to stay out of harm's way. When you're a young athlete on the road with a lot of free time on your hands, I think it ups it exponentially.

I know Hamilton has a caretaker who helps him out on the road, but I think it's taken a lot of stick-to-itiveness by Josh. You know he's had a second chance, had a couple of hiccups, but he's made the most of it. Addiction is a sickness; we should look at it like that. I think we should welcome what he's done. He's not only a great player, but he's also become a leader on that team and that's the most interesting part of that to me.

CNN: Besides Hamilton, who are some other players people will enjoy watching if they flip on the game?

Darling: In the National League, you have to look at the little guys, Shane Victorino and Placido Polanco, for the Phillies. Sometimes these games allow them to shine when most of the publicity goes to the home-run hitters. On San Francisco, Andres Torres, their centerfielder, had a remarkable season. He's a player who floundered and later in his career found his role and had a great season.

The Giants closer Brian Wilson had a remarkable year. I know he has the funny hair and funny beard, but there's nothing funny about how he gets saves.

The New York Yankees' Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson, batting at the bottom of the order, will have a big series. For Texas, the casual fan may not know about Nelson Cruz, but he has about as much pop in his bat as anyone in the game and he's a good fielder and throws well. (The playoffs) could be a good forum for the country to learn what a good player he is.

CNN: Why have there been so many errors in this post-season?

Darling: There have been 31 errors so far, and what we should read into it is that the game has changed. You can overlook an error when a lot of home runs are being hit and a lot of runs scored. That's not happening as much anymore.

Every play is critical, and if you're talking about this being the season of the post-season pitcher, every time an error is made, it's going to be crucial in determining the game. There have been errors before, but over the last 10 seasons, you could overcome it with offensive output. But when the games are 3-1 every night, you can't afford those errors.

And those players that in the past you put in the lineup because of their offensive abilities and you hoped they would catch the ball but figured they'd make up for it with their offense, those days are gone and those players are gone. If you are in the minor leagues and not working on your fielding, you're going to have a hard time getting to the major leagues.

CNN: Because of steroid testing, do you think these lower-scoring, well-pitched games are going to be the norm going forward?

Darling: Watch these series. There's going to be lots of steals, bunting and infield hits, all of those things that we saw a lot in the '70s and early '80s that went away. You're still going to have guys hit the ball out of the ballpark. But how many home runs are guys going to hit off Halladay, Lee, Lincecum and Sabathia? It's not gonna happen.