Pittsburgh Pirates v Chicago Cubs

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights


Pirates 2, Cubs 1: And with that the Pirates are going to the playoffs. It’s so strange, though, how even though it’s the franchise that has lost for the past 20 years — even though it’s just the laundry which has been shut out so long — that we sort of passively put all that weight on the current members of the Pirates too. Weight that Andrew McCutchen talked about after the game:

“Even though I didn’t lose for the last 20 years, they make you feel like you are. You feel like you lost those 20 years”

That’s pretty remarkable when you think about it. McCutchen was six years old when Sid Bream slid into home plate in the 1992 NLCS, yet pressure has been put on him simply because he got drafted by the Pirates instead of, say, the Giants. The Reds clinched yesterday too and are back to the playoffs. No one asks, say, Shin-Soo Choo about any weight being removed even though he’s just as much of a playoffs newbie as McCutchen is. Oh well.

Reds 3, Mets 2: Like I said, the Reds clinched too, this on a Shin-Soo Choo single in the 10th, but it was a very different scene afterward. No champagne or anything, as they want the division title and seeing the Cardinals beat the Nats a bit after their game ended made that a half game harder to do.

Cardinals 4, Nationals 3: The Nats get eliminated. Proof that you can’t just sleepwalk for four and a half months and then step on the gas for a while and expect it all to be OK. Proof that preseason expectations and predictions mean nothing. Proof that when someone — like a lot of us around here — adds “on paper” to comments about how good a team looks in March it’s probably close to meaningless. Meanwhile the Cardinals are tied with the Braves for the best record in the National League. Whichever of those teams prevails in this regard gets to avoid the Dodgers in the NLDS, so yeah, there are still things to be decided in the NL.

Rays 5, Orioles 4: What an awful day for the Orioles. They lost on a James Loney walkoff homer, get swept in four games and lose Manny Machado and Alexi Casilla to serious injuries. The Rays are a game up on Cleveland for the top wild card spot. The O’s are all but eliminated.

Twins 4, Tigers 3: The Tigers could’ve clinched the central but the wheels fell off late. Lots here which suggests what kind of trouble the Tigers could have in the playoffs, though. Justin Verlander had a dominant stretch of strikeouts — he finished with 12 in six innings — but inefficiency prevented him from going deep into the game. This exposed the Tigers bullpen for too many innings and led Jim Leyland to go to closer Joaquin Benoit for a five-out save which just wasn’t happening. Today is another day to clinch, but I feel like there are reasons to be concerned.

Brewers 5, Braves 0: Atlanta played much like a team that had spent the previous night shooting champagne into each others’ faces. Marco Estrada tossed seven shutout innings and Carlos Gomez and Jonathan Lucroy homered.

Athletics 10, Angels 5: Not all teams which celebrated Sunday looked flat on Monday. Five wins in a row for Oakland, which benefited from Jed Lowrie and Brandon Moss homers and RBI from seven different A’s.

Rangers 12, Astros 0: Alex Rios hit for the cycle and drove in four runs. Texas is a game behind Cleveland for the final wild card spot. All of their remaining games are at home.

Royals 6, Mariners 5: Alex Gordon keeps the Royals’ hopes alive. He gunned down a runner at the plate in extra innings and then scored on Salvador Perez’s two-out double in the 12th to put KC ahead for good. The Royals are still a longshot, though. Three back with six to play and, unlike the Rangers, all of their remaining games are on the road.

Marlins 4, Phillies 0: This could’ve been Roy Halladay’s final start for the Phillies. And, though he has said he will pitch again next year, the way he looks it could be his final start in major league baseball. He faced only three batters, walking two, and couldn’t break 83 on the gun. This is pretty sad to watch.

White Sox 3, Blue Jays 2: Tiger got to hunt, Bird got to fly; Man got to sit and wonder, “Why, why, why?” Sox got to pitch, Jays have to bat, Man got to Jays fans have to ask where their Leafs’ schedule’s at. Why no, I didn’t read Charles J. Shields’ quite excellent biography of Kurt Vonnegut over the weekend. Why do you ask?

Padres 4, Diamondbacks 1: My Friday and Monday absences were occasioned by a trip to San Diego for a wedding. While there I got to take in Sunday’s game at Petco. And hang out and walk on the beach and eat In-N-Out Burger and good tacos and drink good beer at Karl Strauss and see my brother and enjoy all of the good things Southern California has to offer while avoiding just about all of the bad things it has to offer, mostly because I didn’t go up near Los Angeles. Starting about 8AM yesterday, as I was enjoying a wonderful breakfast, I began my usual “wait, why don’t I live here again?” musings. I’ve been back in Ohio for about eight hours now and I’m still musing. Sigh. Oh, Padres beat the Dbacks. Apologies for the non-recap of that one. I was busy consulting real estate listings.

Leave Steve Bartman Alone

CHICAGO, IL - JUNE 16: A general view on June 16,  2015 at Wrigley Field during the fifth inning of a game between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
Getty Images

The Cubs are up 3-2 in the NLCS and are heading back to Wrigley Field in an effort to punch their first World Series ticket since 1945. For Cubs fans it’s a dream come true. For Dodgers fans it’s nail-biting time. For most of the players involved it’s the biggest test of their professional lives.

For many in the baseball media, however, it’ll be an opportunity to throw gleeful, thoughtless punches at a man who doesn’t want or deserve the attention:

We all know the story of Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS which, yes, began with the Cubs leading the series 3-2 and needing only one win in two games at home to go to the World Series. Bartman, like many other fans in his section that night and like countless other fans at countless other baseball games before and since, went for a foul ball coming his way. The fielder — Moises Alou — probably had a chance to catch it (I say “probably” because Alou himself has changed his stance at that on numerous occasions over the past 13 years). Either way, the ball was not caught, the Florida Marlins mounted a huge eighth inning rally, went on to win Game 7 and, eventually, the World Series.

The game was played on a Tuesday night. It became known forever as “the Steve Bartman Game” before the sun rose on Wednesday morning. It could’ve been called “The Mike Everitt Game” after the umpire who didn’t call fan interference on the play. It could’ve been called “The Alex Gonzalez Game” after the would-be inning-ending double play the Cubs shortstop booted, prolonging the Marlins’ rally. Or “The Mark Prior Game” for Prior’s subsequent walk of Luis Castillo or “The Dusty Baker Game” for Baker leaving Prior in too long. When a team blows a huge lead in fantastic fashion they NEVER blame it on one single player or one single play, but the entire 2003 NLCS and the Cubs’ subsequent struggles after that have always, to greater or lesser degrees, been hung on Bartman.

This despite the fact that, the next morning, he apologized. In doing so, he noted that he was already feeling the heat of an entire fan base’s blowback:

To Moises Alou, the Chicago Cubs organization, Ron Santo, Ernie Banks, and Cub fans everywhere I am so truly sorry from the bottom of this Cubs fan’s broken heart. I ask that Cub fans everywhere redirect the negative energy that has been vented towards my family, my friends, and myself into the usual positive support for our beloved team on their way to being National League champs.

That didn’t happen, of course. The blowback continued and continues to this day. Just this week ESPN did a segment lumping Bartman in with fans who have thrown beer cans at players or who have otherwise interfered with games with malice.

For the most part, though, it’s less rancorous now than it used to be. It’s occasionally tinged with humor. As demonstrated in those tweets above it’s often just rote. When the Cubs are on the brink of anything one is apparently obligated to mention it, just like one mentions Billy Goats or the Curse of the Bambino or any number of other bits of baseball lore. Bartman references are, at turns, laments of futility or signaling of one’s grasp of baseball history. Before those tweets were composed, the author’s synapses fired: “hey, this is like that one time that thing happened so I am obligated to mention that thing.” Joe Buck and John Smoltz will likely have a discussion about it on Saturday night. Fox’s production team is likely splicing together the video as we speak. Some deep-thinking longform writer is probably composing yet another turgid “Searching for Bartman” piece, the sort of which we get every few years.

But there’s a difference between Steve Bartman on the one hand and Billy Goats and curses on the other. Steve Bartman is a human being. One who was jeered and who had his friends and family attacked. One who, apparently, has felt it necessary to disappear from public view in order to protect his privacy and identity so as to not be scapegoated anew every time the Cubs threaten to do anything in the postseason. In this day and age even the justifiably infamous will make great efforts to capitalize on their infamy. They’ll give interviews or print up t-shirts or write a quickie book or any number of other things to prolong their 15 minutes of fame. Then we, as a society, tend to leave them alone. Bartman has done everything he can to be left alone, but we simply cannot do that, apparently. No one wants to leave him alone, his wishes to be left alone be damned.

We should let it go. Not because it’s not a genuinely interesting bit of baseball history — it is — but because there’s a human being at the center of it who had his life negatively altered as a result. He can’t go to the games of his favorite team anymore. If he still lives in or visits Chicago he likely worries about being recognized. His name is pretty distinct. How many job interviews or customer service telephone calls or exchanges of credit cards and checks at a restaurant have resulted in an awkward conversation in which he is immediately presumed to be infamous? Think of how bad you feel on those rare occasions when someone, rightly or wrongly, assumes the ethical high ground over you. Then realize that every single person with even a moderate knowledge of baseball does that, intentionally or otherwise, with Steve Bartman every time he ventures out into the world. The only way he could avoid that would be to change his name. Imagine if you were forced to change your name because people won’t stop reminding you of your unwarranted infamy.

I’ve seen some people suggest that, should the Cubs win one of the next two games, the club or someone representing it and/or its fans should make a public proclamation of forgiveness to Bartman. Maybe Bill Murray takes a microphone and says something Bill Murray-esque about how “Cubs Nation forgives you, ya knucklehead, come on home!” I wouldn’t be terribly impressed if that happened. Forgiveness, if any was even warranted in this case, should’ve come on October 15, 2003 when Bartman offered a sincere and heartfelt apology. Forgiveness should always be contingent on one’s sincere remorse. It should not be contingent on the Cubs finally getting their act together after long stretches of futility. To be honest, if there is any forgiveness to be granted here it’s Bartman forgiving everyone responsible for turning him into a punchline, not the other way around.

Let it go, baseball fans. Let it go, baseball media. Let’s try to spend today’s off day, tomorrow’s Game 6 and, if necessary, Sunday’s Game 7 without forcing the Steve Bartman narrative. Given the storylines of the 2016 NLCS — two interesting teams, several interesting players and the great starting pitchers the Cubs and Dodgers are going to feature in the next one or two games — it’d be superfluous as it is. But given that, at the heart of that narrative, is a man who has done nothing to deserve either the attention or the scorn he has received over the years, pushing it is even less justifiable than it would be if all things were equal.

Leave Steve Bartman alone. We’ve put him through enough already.

Concerns over Jon Lester’s throwing ability much ado about nothing

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: Jon Lester #34 of the Chicago Cubs pitches against the Los Angeles Dodgers in game five of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Going into Thursday night’s NLCS Game 5, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts planned to have his team be annoying and distracting on the base paths for Cubs starter Jon Lester. Lester, you see, has a hard time making throws when he’s not pitching from the rubber, as seen here.

The Dodgers got an immediate opportunity to test their strategy, as Enrique Hernandez drew a four-pitch walk to start the game in the bottom of the first inning. Hernandez was taking leads between 15 and 25 feet, just taunting Lester to throw over to first base. Lester never did. And despite being given the luxury of such a large lead, Hernandez never attempted to steal second base.

It ended up costing the Dodgers a run. After Justin Turner struck out, Corey Seager lined a single to center field. Hernandez, large lead and all, should’ve been well on his way to third base, but he settled for staying at second base. Carlos Ruiz then flied out to right field on what should’ve been a sacrifice fly. Hernandez instead just advanced to third. Howie Kendrick grounded out to end the inning with the Dodgers having scored no runs.

In the bottom of the second inning with two outs, Joc Pederson dropped down a bunt, but Lester was able to field it and make a bounce-throw to Anthony Rizzo at first base to end the inning. Lester stared angrily into the Dodgers’ dugout as he walked off the field. If it were me, I’d have been glaring angrily not because the opposing team was attempting to exploit my weakness, but because the strategy is so poor.

The bunting would continue in the seventh inning as first baseman and noted power hitter Adrian Gonzalez tried to sneak a bunt past Lester on the right side of the infield. Second baseman Javier Baez was able to scoop it up and fire to first. Gonzalez was initially ruled safe, but the call was overturned upon replay review.

Lester countered the Dodgers’ bunting and greedy lead-taking by just pitching his game. He went seven innings, allowing just one run on five hits and a walk with six strikeouts on 108 pitches. The Cubs went on to win 8-4, taking a 3-2 lead in the NLCS. A worthy consideration for the National League Cy Young Award based on his regular season performance, Lester now has a 0.86 ERA in 21 innings spanning three starts this postseason. Turns out, the yips isn’t debilitating if you’re really good at your main job.