Don Mattingly AP

Last night was not Don Mattingly’s finest hour

57 Comments

Carlos Beltran delivered the walkoff RBI single in the 13th inning last night to lead the Cardinals to a 3-2 victory over the Dodgers in Game 1 of the NLCS, but a number of questionable decisions from Don Mattingly set the events in motion.

The first occurred in the top of the eighth inning after Adrian Gonzalez reached on a leadoff walk and was removed in favor of pinch-runner Dee Gordon. The idea was for Gordon to take off and steal second base, but he didn’t run on the first two pitches to Yasiel Puig and was eventually erased on a force out. The decision to remove Gonzalez for a pinch-runner came back to bite the Dodgers multiple times, as Michael Young entered the game to play first base and hit into inning-ending double plays out of the cleanup spot in the 10th and 12th innings. While the first one required an excellent throw from Beltran in right field, the second was set up after Mattingly had Mark Ellis bunt Carl Crawford over to second base, which was quickly countered by Mike Matheny intentionally walking Hanley Ramirez to pitch to Young.

For Mattingly’s part, he told Phil Rogers of MLB.com after the game that he didn’t regret his decision to remove Gonzalez for Gordon in the eighth.

“Well, it’s one of those [situations] that you’ve got to shoot your bullet when you get a chance,” Mattingly said. “If we don’t use [Gordon] there and the next guy hits a ball in the gap and he doesn’t score and we don’t score there, we’re going to say, ‘Why didn’t you use Dee?’ So it was our opportunity to run him. Obviously, Yasiel swung early, and it didn’t work out for us. But it’s still a situation that I don’t think we would [do differently]. You get a guy on in that inning, and you have to take a shot at scoring a run.”

But that’s not all. While Matheny used his closer Trevor Rosenthal for two innings in a tie game, Mattingly preferred to hold Kenley Jansen for a save situation. This caused him to use relievers like Ronald Belisario, J.P. Howell, and Chris Withrow in extra innings first. Mattingly was finally forced to turn to Jansen in the bottom of the 13th after Withrow allowed a one-out single to Daniel Descalso and walked Matt Carpenter, but Beltran quickly ended things with the walkoff single. Perhaps things would have turned out differently if Jansen was given a chance to begin the 13th clean, but it sounds like that was never Mattingly’s intention. In fact, he told Anthony DiComo of MLB.com that holding Jansen out for a save situation is “pretty much what happens with the closer.”

There’s still a lot of baseball left to be played and the Dodgers have a chance to even things up today with their ace Clayton Kershaw on the mound, but they find themselves in an early hole in part due to Mattingly’s failed strategy.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images
21 Comments

It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.