George and Dragon

Scenes from Spring Training: Beer, Voros McCracken and almost getting my butt kicked over a misunderstanding


I had an interesting evening. Went out for beers with my friend Connor Doyle who, long ago, was one half of a good (mostly) sports blog called Two Guys who, like, never agree. It’s defunct now, but back in 2007 and 2008 he and I were occupying the same general Blogspot world.  Also joining us: Voros McCracken, sabermetrician extraordinaire.

For those who don’t know, Voros is the man who originated the idea of defense-independent pitching statistics, or DIPS as they came to be known.  Jeff Passan wrote his story out back in January. I wasn’t interested in getting more of his story. I was merely interested in hoisting the moist with him and Connor last night, which we did in spades at a pleasant British pub.

And, surprisingly, there wasn’t much baseball discussed. We talked way more about soccer, which is a particular passion of Voros’ and Connor’s. I’ve tried in fits and starts to become at least moderately conversant with soccer over the years, mostly because I’ve identified it as an excellent way to spend the winter when there’s no baseball about.  It’s never clicked for me, however.

I get the impression that if I hung out with Voros and Connor more that something would click.  In a couple short hours a handful of misconceptions I’ve harbored about the game were cast aside and, I think anyway, I got at least a tiny glimpse into what makes it so damn intriguing for several billion people the world over.  Or maybe it was just the Guinness talking. Hard to say, but I did enjoy myself and I’m inclined to give soccer another chance because of it.

Sadly, though, there was one brief moment when things turned sour.  The three of us were talking about basketball and the subject of the Carmelo Anthony trade came up. We were all criticizing a particular take that a particular sports writer had on the trade, and the basis for our criticism of it was that the writer’s take seemed to come from a rather racist — or at the very least, paternalistic — perspective. Kind of a “how dare Anthony not remain loyal to his team” kind of thing of which none of us particularly approved.

In discussing this I — sarcastically, with a literal eye-roll — ripped the piece by taking on the voice of the author and saying “of course not, because he’s black” or words to that effect, with the intent of condemning what I took to be the writer’s casual racism.

Seems, however, that the black man the next table over had only half-heard our conversation and assumed that we were genuinely ripping that uppity Carmelo Anthony for demanding a trade. Or for having the gall to be black. I’m still not sure what we were presumed to be saying, actually. All I know is that the guy from the next table over was right pissed off for all the wrong reasons.

After his white friend came to our table and told us that we were pathetic, he himself came by and told us that were it not for the fact that kicking our butts would cause him more trouble than it’s worth, he’d totally kick our butts.  We tried to explain that he misunderstood us, but he wasn’t much interested in that and then moved on.

I was happy that he moved on, but it’s not like I didn’t have a plan if he hadn’t. Indeed, if things got chippy, I would have been behind Voros the whole time. Like, literally behind Voros, hoping to avoid getting my face mashed in until someone got a cop on the scene to rescue my blogger behind. Thankfully it didn’t come to that. Could have been bad news for Voros. I don’t think he’s had a lot of practice as a human shield and he might have gotten injured as he unwittingly protected me. I would have felt bad for him.

Oh well. Sarcasm doesn’t always come through on the internet. I figured it came through better in bar conversations, but I guess that’s not a universal rule either.  All I know is that if more people actually listened to one another instead of merely defaulting to the safety of their preconceptions, people would get along a lot better than they do.  I suppose that’s expecting too damn much of people, however.

But Voros was a cool guy, especially given how poised he was to protect me from the blows that rained down upon me, whether he realized it or not.

One more day of baseball here in Arizona to help cleanse the palette. The Mariners and the White Sox, babies, live from Camelback Ranch in beautiful Glendale, Arizona later today. I’ll try not to get my butt kicked while I’m there.

Kyle Schwarber is the feel-good story of the 2016 postseason

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Kyle Schwarber #12 of the Chicago Cubs reacts after hitting an RBI single to score Ben Zobrist #18 (not pictured) during the fifth inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
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Most baseball fans and even the Cubs had resigned themselves to most likely not seeing Kyle Schwarber in game action until spring training next year after he suffered a gruesome knee injury in a collision with teammate Dexter Fowler back in early April. Schwarber suffered a fully-torn ACL and LCL in his left leg.

To the surprise of everyone, including manager Joe Maddon, Schwarber was cleared by doctors to play if the Cubs wanted to put him on the World Series roster. So they did. And, boy, are they glad they did it. In preparation, Schwarber saw over 1,000 pitches from machines and pitchers in the Arizona Fall League.

Schwarber essentially crammed for the final exam and unlike most students who do it, it has panned out well thus far. No one was expecting him to look outstanding against Indians ace Corey Kluber in Game 1, but in his first at-bat — his first in the majors since suffering the injury in April — Schwarber worked a 3-1 count before eventually being retired on strikes. Schwarber came back up in the fourth and drilled a Kluber sinker to right field for a two-out double.

In the seventh inning, facing one of the American League’s two scariest left-handed relievers in Andrew Miller, Schwarber worked a full count before drawing a walk. During the regular season, Miller walked exactly one lefty batter. Schwarber made it two. Schwarber would face Miller again in the eighth, going ahead 2-1 before ultimately striking out. He finished 1-for-3 with a walk and a double in the Cubs’ 6-0 loss. Considering the circumstances, that’s amazing.

Schwarber continued his great approach in Game 2 in what turned out to be a 5-1 victory. He struck out against Trevor Bauer in the first inning, but returned to the batter’s box in the third inning and singled up the middle to knock in the Cubs’ second run. Schwarber made it 3-0 in the fifth when he singled up the middle again, this time off of Bryan Shaw, to make it 3-0. Facing Danny Salazar in the sixth, Schwarber drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second base with two outs. Finally, he struck out against Dan Otero in his eighth-inning at-bat, finishing the evening 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI singles and a walk.

But now, as the Cubs return to Chicago for World Series Games 3, 4, and 5 at Wrigley Field, they have to contest with National League rules, a.k.a. no DH. Will Maddon risk Schwarber’s subpar defense to put his dangerous bat in the lineup? Even if Schwarber is not put in the starting lineup, he can at least serve as a dangerous bat off the bench late in the game when the Indians send out their trio of relievers in Shaw, Miller, and closer Cody Allen. At any rate, what Schwarber has done already in the first two games of the World Series is mighty impressive.

Jake Arrieta flirts with no-hitter, pitches Cubs past Indians 5-1 in World Series Game 2

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Jake Arrieta #49 of the Chicago Cubs throws a pitch during the first inning against the Cleveland Indians in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images)
Gene Puskar - Pool/Getty Images

Cubs starter Jake Arrieta pitched into the sixth inning before allowing his first hit. Behind his strong performance, the Cubs were able to take down the Indians 5-1 in Game 2 of the World Series to even things up at one game apiece.

Unlike their Game 1 performance against Corey Kluber, the Cubs’ offense was ready early. Kris Bryant singled with one out in the first inning against Indians starter Trevor Bauer and promptly scored when Anthony Rizzo drilled a double down the right field line. The Cubs would score again in the third with a two-out rally as Rizzo walked, then Ben Zobrist and Kyle Schwarber hit consecutive singles to center field, plating one run to make it 2-0.

With Zach McAllister returning to the mound for the fifth after relieving Bauer in the fourth, he walked Rizzo, then gave up a triple to Zobrist. The Cubs continued to press their foot on the gas, with Schwarber hitting another RBI single. After Jason Kipnis committed a fielding error on a Willson Contreras grounder — what should’ve been the final out of the inning — McAllister walked Jorge Soler to load the bases, then walked Addison Russell to force in a run, pushing the Cubs’ lead to 5-0.

Arrieta had a first-inning scare, issuing back-to-back two-out walks, but he escaped the jam and seemed to be on cruise control until the sixth inning. He got Carlos Santana to fly out to lead off the sixth, continuing his no-hit bid, but Kipnis broke it up with a double to right field. After getting Francisco Lindor to ground out, pushing Kipnis to third base, Arrieta uncorked a wild pitch, helping the Indians score their first run of the game. Arrieta then served up a single to Mike Napoli, which proved to be the end of the line. Manager Joe Maddon came out to replace him with lefty Mike Montgomery. Montgomery ended the bottom of the sixth by inducing a weak ground out from Jose Ramirez.

Montgomery struck out the first two batters he faced in the seventh, then got into a bit of hot water by yielding a single to Brandon Guyer, then walking Game 1 hero Roberto Perez. Carlos Santana, however, struck out to end what would be the Indians’ last real chance to get back in the ballgame.

Montgomery remained in the game in the bottom of the eighth. He struck out Kipnis, got Lindor to ground out, then gave up a line drive single to Napoli before Maddon pulled the plug. Closer Aroldis Chapman entered to face Ramirez. As expected, Chapman got Ramirez to whiff on a fastball to send the game to the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, Chapman fanned Rajai Davis and got Coco Crisp to ground out for two quick outs. He walked Guyer on five pitches but ended the game as rain drizzled onto Progressive Field by getting Perez to ground out to shortstop.

The World Series is now headed back to Wrigley Field. The two clubs will enjoy a day off on Thursday to travel. Game Three will be played at 8:00 PM EDT on Friday. The Indians will send Josh Tomlin to the hill while the Cubs will counter with Kyle Hendricks.