Athletics walk off victorious after hard-fought pitcher’s duel in Game 2 of ALDS

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The Tigers and Athletics played what could very well end up being the best game of the entire post-season tonight as starters Justin Verlander and Sonny Gray took the hill in opposition. The two right-handers traded zeroes through seven innings, each allowing just four hits, each walking two or fewer, each striking out at least nine. As Katie Sharp noted on Twitter, tonight was the first game in post-season history in which both pitchers shut out their opponents and struck out at least nine.

Gray was able to pitch through the eighth inning, escaping a sticky situation with the speedy Don Kelly on second base with one out. The 23-year-old relied on his curve to strike out Austin Jackson for the fourth time in as many at-bats, then got Torii Hunter to pop out. From there, it was a battle of the bullpens.

Verlander made it through seven, throwing 117 pitches in total, striking out 11 while walking just one. He was able to ramp it up to 98 MPH in his final inning, adding some extra velocity when he needed it most. On any other night, he would have walked away with a W, but Gray was his equal.

After Drew Smyly and Al Alburquerque teamed up for a scoreless eighth, Tigers manager Jim Leyland left Alburquerque in for the bottom of the ninth. Yoenis Cespedes led off with a single to left field, past a rangeless Miguel Cabrera. Seth Smith followed up with a single to right field, allowing Cespedes to advance to third base with no outs. Leyland called for Josh Reddick to be intentionally walked, setting up a force at every base, then replaced Alburquerque with Rick Porcello — a move that will likely be second-guessed as closer Joaquin Benoit, ostensibly the team’s best reliever, remained in the bullpen waiting for a save situation. Catcher Stephen Vogt, 0-for-3 with three strikeouts to that point, laced a 93 MPH fastball from Porcello into left field, scoring Cespedes for a walk-off single.

With the 1-0 victory, the Athletics tie the ALDS at 1-1 and will now head to Detroit for two games. Athletics starter Jarrod Parker will oppose Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez on Monday.

Jack Morris should not be in the Hall of Fame

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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Long time Tigers pitcher Jack Morris was on the Hall of Fame ballot for 15 years but never quite got the necessary 75 percent support to earn enshrinement. That changed on Sunday when he got 12 of 16 votes on the Modern Era ballot. Jack Morris is officially a Hall of Famer.

He shouldn’t be. Statistically, Morris falls well short of Cooperstown standards. His career regular season ERA of 3.90 is now the highest of any pitcher in the Hall of Fame. Morris has a career adjusted ERA — that is, ERA adjusted for league and park factors and set such that 100 is average — of 105, which matches him with more modern pitchers like Andy Benes (105), A.J. Burnett (104), Jamie Moyer (103), and is marginally better than a contemporary in Mike Flanagan (100).

Morris struck out 2,478 batters and walked 1,390 batters in 3,824 career innings. That’s fewer than six strikeouts per nine innings and more than three walks. Of course, the game was different back in the late 70’s and 80’s, as pitchers were more willing to pitch to contact. But even for the time in which he pitched, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.78 was 214th best out of 612 pitchers, not even in the top one-third of the league.

But, his supporters say, Morris was clutch in the playoffs. And that much is true… if all you remember about Morris is his 10-inning performance against the Braves in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. He shut the Braves out over all 10 frames, giving up just seven hits and two walks with eight strikeouts, helping the Twins win the championship. Certainly a memorable performance. However, Morris had a career 3.80 ERA in 13 postseason starts, marginally better than his unimpressive regular season ERA of 3.90.

It was in spite of Morris, not because of, that the Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992. During four postseason appearances that year, Morris yielded 19 runs in 23 innings. He did not participate in the 1993 postseason but nonetheless got a championship ring in 1993.

Statistically, we have established that Morris does not come close to meriting enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. If you are not convinced, however, perhaps the way Morris treated Jennifer Frey will do the job. Dave McKenna published a fantastic piece about Frey at Deadspin several months after she passed away. He included a photograph of a blurb in the Detroit Free Press on July 19, 1990, which read:

Free Press reporter rebuffed by Morris

The following exchange took place Wednesday night between Free Press sports writer Jennifer Frey, an intern from Harvard, and Tigers pitcher Jack Morris.

Frey, trying to get a comment from Morris about the collusion ruling, approached Morris in the Tigers’ clubhouse before Wednesday’s game against Chicago and said: “Mr. Morris …”

Morris turned and said: “I don’t talk to people when I’m naked, especially women, unless they’re on top of me or I’m on top of them.”

Morris’ response was heard by several reporters and a number of teammates.

Frey said Morris was wearing long underwear at the time — the same thing he was wearing when he discussed his recent one-hitter at length with Frey and other reporters.

Frey said several of Morris’ teammates later told her not to pay attention to what Morris said.

By Gene Guidi

Neal Shine, the publisher of the Free Press, wrote a letter to then-president of the Tigers Bo Schembechler. Neither Schembechler nor anyone else with the Tigers disputed the above account. No one apologized. In fact, Schembechler wrote back to Shine, saying, “your intern watched men from 20 to 65 years of age undress and dress for more than half an hour without asking questions.” He continued, “Your sports editor’s lack of common sense in sending a female college intern in a men’s clubhouse caused the problem. I really wouldn’t doubt that the whole thing was a scam orchestrated by you people to create a story.”

After Frey moved on from the Detroit Free Press, working for the Philadelphia Daily News in 1991. Covering the Twins/Blue Jays ALCS, Frey told her friends that Kirby Puckett had to keep Morris from physically attacking her. One of her friends, Chuck Culpepper, said, “She told me when she ran into Morris, he said, ‘You’re a bitch!’ And she said, ‘You’re an asshole!’ One of those was true — and she wasn’t a bitch.”

Hall of Fame voters have often cited the “character clause” in refusing to vote for players who were caught or suspected of using performance-enhancing drugs. The “character clause” has also been cited for Curt Schilling, who expressed adulation for a t-shirt that read, “Rope. Tree. Journalist. Some assembly required.” They should extend the use of the “character clause” to cover candidates who have treated people disrespectfully, including in a hateful way the way Morris did.

When it comes to “tarnishing the game” with steroids or expressing hatred of (some) journalists, Hall of Fame voters are very eager to cite the character clause. When it comes to a pitcher who was, by most accounts, a knuckle-dragger, voters seem unwilling to hold him accountable. No matter which way you look at it, statistically or otherwise, Morris should not be in the Hall of Fame.