If you think Cards can recover, you're nuts

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holliday_error.jpgCongratulations Matt Holliday, you’ve just entered Steve Bartman territory. Of course, Bartman would have caught that ball.

For those of you who missed it – and judging by the empty seats at Dodger Stadium tonight, I’m guessing some of you did – Holliday helped the St. Louis Cardinals snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by dropping what would have been the game-ending fly ball in Game 2 of the NLDS on Thursday night.

Catch the ball and the Cardinals win 2-1, tying the best-of-5 series at one game apiece. Instead, James Loney’s liner sought out Holliday’s, umm, lower midsection, completely missing his glove along the way. One Ryan Franklin meltdown later and the Dodgers were sitting pretty with a 3-2 victory, a 2-0 series lead, and needing just one more victory to advance to the NLCS.

(Watch the Holliday play here. You will be amused, unless you’re a Cardinals fan.)

If this had been the World Series, Holliday’s gaffe would be on par with Bill Buckner’s famous error in 1986.

As it is, he’ll just get to watch the blunder over and over again on ESPN, TBS, FOX sports – heck, probably even Al Jazeera — and wonder if that single play will affect the dollars thrown his way in free agency. (Here’s wondering if that single mistake will actually encourage the Mets to sign him. Seems like a good fit, no?)

It’s a shame for Holliday, who is not only a great hitter (who hit a home run on Thursday, by the way), but is normally a quality defender. In fact, he has rated above average in range rating throughout his career and above average in UZR every year but 2006. He had made only one error in 63 games after being dealt to the Cardinals this season.

Manny Ramirez, he is not.

But while Holliday must now figure out how to deal with his newfound infamy, the more important thing from the Cardinals’ point of view is to figure out how to beat the Dodgers — in a hurry.

Can they do it? Well the Cardinals certainly have the right attitude, banding together to back Holliday while placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of … Dodgers fans?

“I mean, that ball got lost in 50,000 white towels shaking in front of Matt’s face,” (Adam) Wainwright added. “It doesn’t really seem fair that an opposing team should be able to allow their fans to shake white towels when there’s a white baseball flying through the air. How about Dodger Blue towels?”

Wainwright’s bravado, while admirable, probably will not be enough to save St. Louis. Teams that suffer through a gaffe like this tend not to recover. The Red Sox certainly didn’t rebound from Buckner’s error in 1986. The Cubs didn’t bounce back from Bartman in 2003. And the Cardinals were unable to recover from Don Denkinger’s blown call in 1985. (See a list of famous goats here)

And in the current series, St. Louis just went 0-2 with their two Cy Young candidates – Chris Carpenter and Wainwright — on the mound. The offense racked up 21 hits and six walks in those two games, yet scored just five runs, stranding 21 base-runners in the process. That’s 1.2 runners stranded per inning.

The Dodgers have made it a point to avoid Albert Pujols, the likely NL MVP, who has only one single in the series, yet a .444 on base percentage on the strength of three walks. Would someone like to drive Pujols in once in awhile? The time to do so would be now, Cardinals.

St. Louis will send out Joel Piniero in Game 3 to face the Dodgers’ Vicente Padilla. Piniero has had a great season (15-12, 3.49 ERA), but then again, so had Franklin, and we saw how far that got him. If things go well, it’ll be the veteran playoff stud John Smoltz against Chad Billingsley in Game 4, then back to Carpenter in Game 5.

Maybe somewhere along the line, Matt Holliday will get a chance to redeem himself. Maybe he will make people forget about Thursday’s blunder. But he’s going to going to need a lot of help from his teammates, and it’s going to have to take an epic comeback to do so.

Chris Sale called “a competitor” for stuff that gets most guys called “head cases”

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Chris Sale #49 of the Chicago White Sox reacts during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Chris Sale has had an eventful week.

On Saturday he was scratched from his start and subsequently suspended for five games for cutting up the 1976 throwback uniforms the team was scheduled to wear, making them unusable. That cost the team over $12,000 and cost the Sox their best pitcher hours before game time.

On Monday Sale gave an interview to Scott Merkin in which he apologized to fans and teammates and explained his rationale for the uniform shredding. Even if his act was over the top, there was a core of understandable motivation at least: Sale said he voiced his displeasure with the untucked jersey months ago and asked to not pitch on a night they’d have to wear them because he believed it would mess with his mechanics and/or mental state. The Sox didn’t heed his request and Sale took issue, as many probably would, with what he felt was the business of throwback jerseys taking precedence over on-the-field stuff.

Of course, there are still some pretty big problems here. Mostly having to do with the facts that (a) the Sox have people on staff who could’ve optimize his jersey any way he needed it to be optimized if he had asked; (b) ballplayers have been wearing throwbacks for a long time now and, even if they don’t like them, they tend to endure them; and (c) he’s a ballplayer who needs to suck things up sometimes like every single ballplayer ever has done. There are a ton of things ballplayers are expected to do which are insisted upon by the business folks. It’s part of the gig.

A little more seriously than that is the fact that Sale pretty publicly threw his manager, Robin Ventura, under the bus :

“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale said. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”

An undercurrent to all of this is Sale being fairly obvious in voicing his desire to be traded.

Today Bob Nightengale of USA Today has a story about Sale’s week. It’s sourced largely by Sale’s friend Adam Eaton who defends Sale as a passionate competitor who just wants to win and how all of this stuff of the past week was about his desire to do so. The headline of the story buys in to all of that:

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We heard much the same along these lines when Sale blasted Sox brass following the Drake LaRoche stuff during spring training, going on an expletive-filled rant in a meeting behind closed doors but then bringing the same noise, albeit cleaned up, in front of reporters after it all became public.

Chris Sale is who he is, of course, and I’m not going to too harshly judge who he is. He’s an amazing pitcher and, as most athletes will tell you, the mental part of the game is almost as important or, maybe, even more important than the physical part. Asking Sale to be who he isn’t would probably be counterproductive in the long term.

But I am fascinated with the way in which someone who has behaved like Sale has behaved is described. He’s a “competitor” whose objectively disruptive and literally destructive behavior is explained away as merely a function of his desire to win. His friends on the team, like Eaton, are sought out for damage control and spin and his detractors, which there are likely some, aren’t quoted, even anonymously. He has publicly called out his manager as not wanting to win as much as he wants to please his bosses and he has likewise called out his manager’s bosses and has welcomed a trade, yet we aren’t seeing stories about how that’s a bad thing for the Sox’ clubhouse.

I don’t much care for that sort of stuff, actually, as I suspect most clubhouse controversy stories are somewhat overblown and overly dramatized. But those stories have been go-to tropes of sports writers for decades, and I am trying to imagine this sort of story about players who aren’t Chris Sale. Players who don’t have as friendly a relationship with the media as he has or who don’t have clubhouse allies who do. I feel like, most of the time, a story about a guy who who has done the odd things Sale has done both this week and last March would play a hell of a lot differently.

How does this all play of it’s Yordano Ventura? Or Yasiel Puig? Or Jose Fernandez? How does this play if it took place in the NBA and it was Kevin Durant who shredded up a bunch of short-shorts on 80s throwback night? How does it play if it’s Cam Newton?

I bet it plays differently.

Mike Scioscia and the Angels played yesterday’s game under protest

KANSAS CITY, MO - JULY 27: Matt Shoemaker #52 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim throws to first as he tries to get the out on Raul Mondesi's #27 of the Kansas City Royals bunt in the seventh inning at Kauffman Stadium on July 27, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. Shoemaker's throwing error lead to Mondesi advancing to third and Alex Gordon and Paulo Orlando scoring.  (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals beat the Angels last night, but Mike Scioscia is hoping Joe Torre and the Commissioner’s Office gives him a do-over.

The Angels played the game in protest following what they believe to be a rules misinterpretation following a base running incident in the seventh inning. That’s when Raul Mondesi reached on a bunt single which scored two runs following a throwing error from Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker, whose attempt to put out Modesi sailed into right field. Watch the play:

Mike Scioscia came out claiming interference, arguing that Mondesi was not running within the baseline. The play was reviewed for over six minutes but the call — everyone’s safe and two runs scored — was upheld. After that Scioscia indicated tht he was playing under protest.

The thing about protests, though, is that they cannot be based on judgment calls. Rather, they have to be based on misapplication of rules by the umpires. Running outside of the baseline is a judgment call, though, right? So how can Scioscia protest it? Here’s his explanation:

“It’s not a judgement call. I would not have protested if I was not 100 percent correct on this. This is a misinterpretation of a rule. It was very clear. Phil Cuzzi, the home plate umpire, had Mondesi running inside the line in jeopardy the whole way, and stated that it’s okay because he was stepping back toward the bag, which is wrong.”

For his part, Royals manager Ned Yost believed it was a judgment call. For everyone’s part, protests are almost never upheld in baseball and, despite Scioscia’s comments, baseline calls are generally considered judgement calls.

If Scioscia is right, the game will be replayed, resuming with one out in the seventh inning and the runners where they started. But don’t hold your breath.