Zero Effect

And That Happened: Sunday’s scores and highlights

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Mets 1, Marlins 0: There were 12 pitchers in this game. Eleven of them didn’t allow any runs, including both starters, Dillon Gee and Tom Koehler. Travis d’Arnaud singled off Zach Phillips in the 12th for the game’s only run. All of those zeroes made me think of one of my favorite movies of all time. Quite possibly my very favorite movie of the 90s. I won’t tell you what it is, but I can give you a hint in figuring it out by offering a few words on looking for things: Remember that when you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you’re only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you’re sure to find some of them.

And no, it’s not “Miller’s Crossing.” Which, now that I think of it may be my favorite movie of the 90s. The one I’m thinking of is, like, 1A, though. And should have been a series of movies or TV movies or maybe a TV series because, man, it was so good and if you haven’t seen it quit denying yourself, man.

Padres 4, Braves 0: Burch Smith —  who sounds more like a character from a romance novel than a pitcher — struck out ten and got his first win. I didn’t see the game but I’m imagining Burch Smith looks like this.

Athletics 5, Rangers 1: What a late surge for the A’s. What a late swoon for the Rangers. The A’s sweep, giving them a six and a half game lead in the division, which effectively gives them the division title. Meanwhile the Rangers are now tied with the Rays in the wild card slot meaning that they’re vulnerable of falling out of the playoff picture entirely.

Tigers 3, Royals 2: I was stuck in a hospital emergency room for over five hours yesterday. Don’t ask. Everyone’s OK now and 99% of the time there was just waiting around. The point, though, was that rather than watch any game I wanted, I was forced to watch about five innings of this one on TBS. I rarely watch the TBS broadcast, partially because of my aversion to three-man booths. And with nothing else to focus on, all I could do is pay attention to just how inane 95% of the stuff that John Smoltz and Cal Ripken say really is. This isn’t necessarily their fault. Indeed, I think Smoltz is actually pretty good in the booth when he’s actually analyzing something. The problem is that a three-man booth almost demands “talking to hear ourselves talk” conversation and bigger picture stories rather than actually focusing on the game at hand. There’s rebop about the grass on the field and pressure on guys approaching milestones and overarching narrative about what kind of team each team is (The Royals are like an NL team! The Tigers have a good lineup!) and very little game action is actually described, let alone analyzed. For each time one color analyst says something about the action, the other analyst feels the need to follow on, and frankly, there aren’t two good points to be made about most plays thus we get into blah blah blah land. Funny how the one guy left who works alone — Scully — is the best and the three-man booths are the worst. I think Scully is great, but I don’t think it’s impossible for someone else to be close to his level. Maybe if we let some broadcasters handle booths solo we’d have better broadcasts, hmm?

Anyway, the Tigers won this one. Sorry for the digression.

Nationals 11, Phillies 2: That last recap was long, so we’ll throw this one to Domonic Brown for analysis. Dom: “Excuse my French, but we got our ass whooped.” Yes, he actually said that.

Orioles 3, Blue Jays 1: The Orioles haven’t been firing on all cylinders lately, but they keep pace in the wild card race with a series win. They’re 2.5 back, with Texas, Tampa Bay and Cleveland ahead of them.

Indians 7, White Sox 1: The Tribe is one half game out. Not to toot my own horn, because I got a lot of predictions wrong this year, but one I got right was the Indians challenging for the wild card. And in recent weeks whenever anyone asks me who I like for the wild card, I’ve noted the Indians cupcake late schedule and said I think they still look like one of the wild card teams to me. So, toot toot.

Pirates 3, Cubs 2: Note: when I went to the hospital yesterday I just grabbed the first shirt I could find on the floor in my bedroom, and it happened to be my Pirates shit. Also, because it was sunny and bald men are always aware of the danger of sunburned bald heads, I grabbed for a cap as I left the house and it was my Pirates cap. So I had quite a little Buccos uniform on at the ER. The security guard decided to strike up baseball conversation with me thusly: “you guys have been pretty good, but we’re gonna win it.” He eventually let on he was a Cardinals fan. I thought about telling him that I wasn’t really a Pirates fan, “I just like gear from various teams and I bought this for a Pirates game last month and really I’m a Braves fan you see, and blah, blah, blah” but I figured that’s be too lame and complicated, so I just said “well, I like our chances,” and left it at that. Later I stopped by CVS to get a prescription and a guy in line ahead of me told me that, when he left the house, the Pirates were up 2-0 in this one. Pirates fans crawling out of the woodwork lately.

Twins 6, Rays 4: The Rays blow a chance to bypass the Rangers and give themselves the luxury of having another wild card team blow it before they do. Oh well. Funny how if the season ended today Texas would play Tampa Bay in the on-off, but they are the two teams people probably want to see the least. And are certainly not playing good baseball.

Brewers 6, Reds 5: The Reds had a three-run lead heading into the bottom of the eighth and then, blammo, they lost in a Sean Halton walkoff homer. Strong assist from Carlos Gomez who robbed Jay Bruce of a homer in the ninth. That guy is just a crazy nuts good outfielder. In other news, as the game was slipping away in the late innings Dusty Baker didn’t go to Aroldis Chapman because The Book says you don’t use your closer in non-save situations on the road. So I guess that means this game could never have been saved.

Angels 2, Astros 1: Five of six for the Angels who continue to play great on the road and great late and oh what it could have been if they had played anything other than sucky for most of the season. Meanwhile, the Astros lose their 98th game. Obviously not a great season, but they have 13 games left. If they go 5-8 or better they will improve upon last year’s record. If they go 6-7 or better they will have their best record in three years. Considering they were supposed to crater worse than anything this year I suppose that’d be a victory of sorts, even if three-straight 100-loss season is pretty rare and awful.

Cardinals 12, Mariners 2: Four hits for Yadier Molina who is maybe getting a bit tired of the MVP conversation subtly shifting to Andrew McCutchen. Molina had a homer and three singles and the Cardinals remain tied with Pittsburgh, much to the pleasure of the security guy at the Ohio State University Medical Center Emergency Department.

Giants 4, Dodgers 3: Hunter Pence continues his amazing tear. After driving in seven on Saturday night he hit two homers yesterday as the Giants take three of four from the Dodgers, thereby delaying the latter’s clinchy gratification. Pence, by the way, has homers in four straight games and five of his last six. He’s gonna get a great-for-him long term deal from the Giants this winter, I presume. Less optimistic it’ll be a great-for-the-Giants deal, but it’s not my money.

Diamondbacks 8, Rockies 2: Your future third-place NL MVP guy, Paul Goldschmidt, drives in five. Which isn’t a slight to him. It’s just, sorry dude, you’re not a catcher nor a center fielder. Goldschmidt homered and went 4 for 4.

Red Sox 9 Yankees 2: TMC showed “Vertigo,” “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief” back-to-back-to-back, AMC had “Breaking Bad” which was just insane and then there was NFL stuff on NBC, so I imagine this was the least-watched Red Sox-Yankees game in some time. Or, I dunno, maybe there aren’t enough people with the good taste out there to watch some Hitchcock on a Sunday night. Either way: the Red Sox are laying waste to the American League and the Yankees, as valiant as their effort has been down the stretch, just couldn’t overcome all of their injuries and could no longer play above their talent level like they did in the early part of the season and, in many ways, since the trading deadline. Props to them, but they are just out-gunned.

Willie Mays gets a cable car named after him

Major League Baseball hall of famer  Willie Mays, who spent the majority of his career as a center fielder with the New York and San Francisco Giants, smiles as President Barack Obama honors the 2012 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants baseball team, Monday, July 29, 2013, during a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. The team beat the Detroit Tigers in the 2012 World Series, their second championship since the franchise moved to San Francisco from New York in 1958. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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This is not exactly stunning news, but it’s Willie Mays’ 85th birthday today and any excuse to talk about Willie Mays is a good one. Happy Birthday, Willie!

The pretext is a story in the San Francisco Chronicle about how The Greatest Baseball Player of All Time (my view anyway) is getting an iconic cable car named after him. An icon named after an icon, I guess. The cable car is, appropriately, number 24.

Next month I’m taking my kids on vacation to California and we’re spending a few days in San Francisco. It’ll be a shame when I tell them we have to cancel half of a day’s plans while I make them wait for one particular cable car to come by so they can take my picture with it, but that’s just what they have to deal with given that I’m their dad.

Carlos Gomez calls out a hit piece-writing columnist

Houston Astros' Carlos Gomez (30) reacts after hitting a double in the second inning of a baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Tuesday, May 3, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Yesterday I wrote about a column written by Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle. It was about Astros outfielder Carlos Gomez, who has had a poor start to the year.

The column, as I noted, was a hatchet job, blaming Gomez for the Astros’ problems despite the fact that Gomez is by far from the biggest of the Astros’ problems. It was particularly bad in that it presented an unedited bit of broken English from Gomez which seemed calculated to cast Gomez in a bad light. Many journalists were critical of Smith in this regard, noting that he could’ve used a translator, could have paraphrased or could’ve done some mild correction via brackets, as is often done with quotes from non-native English speakers.

Last night Gomez took to Twitter to call out Smith himself:

It’s possible to write a column about how a player hasn’t lived up to expectations without being an insensitive jackass. It’s possible to do so even in the sharpest of ways. Smith didn’t do that, however, and didn’t make an effort to try, it seems. Gomez is right to take issue with it. And I suspect that Gomez’s teammates and organization take issue with it too. Which likely doesn’t bode well for Smith getting cooperation from others in the Astros family.

Reminder: athletes are not heroes

Zack Greinke
Associated Press
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This is something of a “greatest hits” piece and it’s topic I’ve talked about here before, but I’m reminded of it again because of Facebook’s memories thing which tells me I wrote about it seven years ago today back when I was still doing stuff at my old Shysterball blog at the Hardball Times.

The topic: ballplayers as heroes. The subject of the 2009 post on the matter was Zack Greinke, who was then beginning his breakout year with the Kansas City Royals. A columnist talked about how uplifting Greinke’s story was, what with him having overcome some struggles with anxiety disorder which had caused him to leave the game for a brief period. In early 2009 he was back, baby, and better than ever and many wanted to turn him into something larger than just a ballplayer excelling at his craft.

In the post I wrote about how, while such an impulse was understandable, it was a dangerous one as athletes have been made into heroes for years and years and, so often, they end up disappointing. Because we built them up so high, however, we don’t see such instances as the mere exhibition of human fallibility. We see them as some greater failure or even a betrayal, which is both ridiculous and unfair to these men and women, even if they have failed in certain ways. They have worked hard all of their lives to be good at a particular sport. They did not promise us glory or inspiration, yet we assume that they owe us those things. Their failures, however they are manifested, are matched by our failures at expectation management.

But it’s even more pernicious than that. Because, as I wrote at the time, when we create heroes, we necessarily create the need for villains and we will go out of our way to find those too, justified or otherwise:

“Hero” is too strong and baggage-laden a word anyway. As [Bill] James notes, it places a heavy burden on young men, and these guys are under such scrutiny day-in and day-out that they really don’t need it. What’s more, the term hero it necessarily assumes its opposite — villain — and demands that we search them out too. You know, to restore balance to the universe and everything. Often — as in the case of A-Rod and Gooden and Bonds and all of the others — they’re the same people, just older . . . Hero creation, worship, and subsequently, destruction has long been a part of baseball. But it’s not an essential part, and in my mind not a desirable part.

Seven years later we’re still doing this. As Bill James noted in his “Historical Baseball Abstract,” “When a young player comes to the major leagues and has success right away, writers will almost always write about what a fine young man he is as well as a supreme talent.” Many of them, like Zack Greinke, will prove to continue to be fine older men, just as they were fine young men. Some will not. Would it not be better if we didn’t get so invested in how fine a young man any one of them is? Or, short of that, if we didn’t act so betrayed and victimized if they turn out not to be such a fine young man?

I like to hear a good story about a baseball player who, by all outward appearances, seems like a good person. But I’m content to give such a story a smile and leave it at that. If we require heroism, there are people who do truly heroic things in the world beyond throw baseballs.

Andrew McCutchen apologies to an official scorer he said should be fired

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen (22) watches from the dugout during the seventh inning of a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, April 13, 2016, in Pittsburgh. Detroit won 7-3.(AP Photo/Don Wright)
Associated Press
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Andrew McCutchen made an error on Wednesday night. He thought he shouldn’t have been charged with one on the play, however, and afterward said “whoever scored that an error should be fired. That’s unbelievable. I did everything I could to catch it.”

It was a dumb comment for two reasons. First, a player “doing everything he can” on a play doesn’t make a misplay not a misplay. The “e” ain’t about effort, man. I realize scoring has gotten somewhat lax in recent years and players are routinely not given errors if it looks like they really, really tried, but there is not an intent element to the crime of making errors on the playing field. If you muff one, you muff one.

It was a dumb comment for another reason, and that’s that it was just not very nice. As we noted when David Ortiz or some others have made publicly disparaging comments about official scorers, it’s the ultimate punching down. These are people who have other jobs, aren’t public figures, don’t get paid a lot and really, really don’t have it in for anyone. Publicly criticizing them is bad enough, publicly demanding their jobs is pretty low.

Thankfully, with a day’s worth of reflection, McCutchen realized that this was the case and apologized. There aren’t public words from McCutchen available, but the club said that he reached out to the scorer and personally apologized. As he should’ve.