ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game Two

The Four-Pitcher Slam

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My pal Bob Ryan brought this up first, but it’s worth reliving for a moment. Sunday night, David Ortiz hit one of the coolest home runs in postseason baseball history. There are many reasons for this. One, is the obvious: The game seemed over. The series, really, seemed over. The Tigers led 5-0, the probable Cy Young winner Max Scherzer was on the mound, Detroit had already won Game 1 in Boston and so the Tigers seemed well on their way down World Series Road.

Then, gradually, imperceptibly at first, things shifted — Boston scored a run, Scherzer came out of the game after a dominant inning, the Red Sox got a double, then a walk, then a single, then Ortiz swung at the first pitch …

Magic.

Another thing: You very rarely see a grand slam that actually ties a game in the late innings. I think game-tying grand slams, in some ways, are even cooler than game-winning ones. Being down four runs seems like a nearly-impossible climb. And then, one swing, new ballgame. So awesome.

In 2013, there were 96 grand slams hit. Six tied the game. And only one of those six — Kyle Seager’s improbable game-tying grand slam in the 14th inning against the White Sox — came after the seventh inning. in 2012, only three game-tying grand slams happened after the seventh. In 2011, there were two. So, this is a rare thing.

And it’s even rarer in the postseason. There have only been three game-tying grand slams in postseason history. In 1977, LA’s Ron Cey hit a grand slam off Phillies’ silent man Steve Carlton to tie the game in the seventh of an NLCS game. In 2004, free-swingin’ Vlad Guerrero, then with the Angels, grand slammed Mike Timlin to tie the Red Sox game in the seventh inning.And then there was Ortiz last night.

But the coolest thing — or anyway, the most telling thing — about the Ortiz home run was this: ALL FOUR RUNS WERE CHARGED TO DIFFERENT PITCHERS.

What an amazing and odd statistic. Several people have asked me if this has ever happened before — I have no idea how to look it up. Maybe someone already has, I’ll keep looking. But for now, I think that little tidbit tells you more about baseball in 2013 — and maybe even life in 2013 — than just about anything else.

How did it happen? Scherzer was pulled before the inning began because, I guess, he had thrown 108 pitches. He had actually just pitched a dominating inning, but Detroit manager Jim Leyland decided he’d had enough. Whatever. So Scherzer was not even one of the four pitchers who had a piece of the slam.

Jose Veras started the inning. He forced a groundout and then gave up a double to Will Middlebrooks.

That’s one.

Drew Smyly came in. He walked Jacoby Ellsbury in a six-pitch at-bat.

That’s two.

Al Alburquerque came in. He struck out Shane Victorino but gave up a ground ball single to Dustin Pedroia.

That’s three.

And Joaquin Benoit came in to face Ortiz. He hit the home run.

And that’s four.

I was having an email exchange with Tom Tango and Bill James about length of games — I have to say that most of the time I don’t care much about length of game discussions. For one thing, it’s kind of a fact of life, like the weather. Baseball is built around a deliberate pace, and while sometimes it can get ridiculous (some of those American League East games are longer than the Korean War) it just, hey, you know, Vanilla Ice goes Amish.*

*I have vowed that I will replace the dreaded “It is what it is” cliche with “Vanilla ice goes Amish,” in honor of an actual reality TV show that more or less puts all reason to an end.

But, I must admit — the games in the postseason are taking too long. A four-hour 1-0 game that was almost a no-hitter? That’s just one example but, I’m sorry, that’s just too long — I don’t care how many walks or how long the playoff commercials. Baseball is absolutely still wonderful. That 1-0 game was still wonderful. But it can be wonderful AND still be too long.

See, the issue is that there’s so much NOTHING that happens now in baseball. So much stepping out, stepping back in, pitcher waiting, pitcher throwing to first, pitcher waiting, batter stepping out again, relief pitcher coming in … does ANYBODY like this stuff? No. They don’t. Plus it gives the television broadcasts too much time, which they too often fill with award-show crowd shots* and reiteration of cliches the announcer had just uttered.

*You know how in award shows, the person on stage will sometimes tell a joke and they will scan to a celebrity in the crowd that had ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the joke. Like someone will tell a Mel Gibson joke and then, suddenly, the camera scans to Marisa Tomei. And even she’s like, “What? Why me?” That’s what I always think of when Fox scans the crowd to show random people during a tense baseball moment.

Anyway, Bill responded this way:

“The PACE of baseball is a huge problem.   The commissioner’s office has tried to deal with this, for years, by nibbling around the edges of it. But the real solutions are extremely simple:

1)  Don’t grant the batter time out between pitches, and
2)  Limit pitching substitutions.

That’s it.   Do those two things, the problem goes away. If you DON’T do those two things, you cannot solve the problem.”

I think that’s probably right. The stalling stuff on both sides — pitcher and hitter — seems pointless and bad for the game. There have been mild efforts to stop it, but I think it’s probably time to just kibosh that.

And then there are the pitching substitutions. I think those speak to the larger issues I was talking about before. We have become so absurdly specialized. I mean, seriously, four pitchers in a single inning with a four-run lead? How is that good for the game? How does that make the game better in any way? How does that even help your team win? And, more to the point, how is that in the spirit of baseball as we know and love it?

All new rule suggestions sound impossible when first brought up. It does not seem feasible that baseball will change its rules so it is more like soccer with a limit on the number of pitching substitutions a manager is allowed to make in a single game. But the question here is simply: Would that kind of rule make the game better?

I think it would. Games would move quicker. I think it would force managers to be MORE strategic, not less because they would have to be smart about how they substituted. And, anyway, it would prevent teams from just throwing stuff at walls.

There was absolutely no good reason whatsoever for Jim Leyland to strangle that inning in an overmanaging feat rarely seen outside of Tony La Russa’s house. Why in the heck did he pull Jose Veras with a four-run lead and one man on second base? What was that Drew Smyly thing about? If you think Benoit is your best pitcher and you’re willing to bring him in the eighth, why wouldn’t you bring him in to face Pedroia? It was Leyland doing stuff just to DO stuff, and it dragged the game to a near standstill. Managers shouldn’t do that. More to the point, managers shouldn’t have the POWER to do that.

I don’t really believe in the baseball gods. But if they are out there, I’m sure they were cheering Ortiz’s grand slam as loudly as anybody.

And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Rain falls during a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights.

Oh, and here is my take on the idiotic ending to the Reds-Cardinals game which could potentially cost the Giants a playoff berth.

Nationals 5, Diamondbacks 3: Wilmer Difo hit his first major league homer. Pedro Severino hit his second. No National succumbed to season-ending injuries. So a rare success for Washington in these final days of the regular season.

Yankees 5, Red Sox 1: CC Sabathia allowed one run and four hits while pitching into the eighth inning. It was only his ninth win of the year — his first win in a month — but he lowered his ERA to 3.91. He strike out fewer guys than he used to, walks more and allows more hits. But the fact that he made 30 starts this year and made at least a modest return to form suggests that, maybe, Sabathia still has something in the tank. Not as an ace, of course, but at least as a guy who can give you some respectable innings at the back of a rotation. In other news, the Yankees were eliminated in the middle of this game by virtue of the Orioles beating the Blue Jays. Inevitable, but the mere fact that they staved off elimination until game 159 is pretty impressive given all that has happened this year.

Cubs 1, Pirates 1: You don’t see many ties in baseball. Unless it’s spring training. Or, like, 1912 or something and it gets dark. Thank Mother Nature for the game being called at 1-1. Thank this game having no playoff implications whatsoever for it not being resumed at a later date. It was the first tie in a regular season game since 2005.

Orioles 4, Blue Jays 0: Ubaldo Jimenez and two relievers combined on a three-hit shutout. Jimenez allowed one of those hits in his six and two-thirds innings. The O’s and Jays are tied in the Wild Card standings with Detroit (1.5 back) and Seattle (2 back) the only ones left who can break up their postseason party.

Braves 5, Phillies 2Freddie Freeman‘s 30-game hitting streak ended but the Braves won for the 10th time in 11 games. The Tigers play Atlanta in the season’s final series. A month or two ago that looked like a nice way to end things. Right now, however, there’s a decent chance that the Braves help end the Tigers season. If that comes to pass, please say a prayer for those Braves fans you know who are engaged to grumpy Tigers fans come Sunday. Not, um, that I know any of those.

Twins 7, Royals 6:

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Same.

Cardinals 4, Reds 3: Not sure what else there is to say at this point that I didn’t say here. I dunno, Yadier Molina and Jedd Gyorko hit solo homers. Wheeeeeee.

Rays 5, White Sox 3: Congratulations to Chris Archer for avoiding his 20th loss of the season. Pitcher wins and losses mean little about the skill or prowess of a pitcher, but it’s better not to be the answer to a trivia question like that.

Dodgers 9, Padres 4Joc Pederson doubled twice and drove in three as the Dodgers avoided a sweep. The Dodgers are two games behind the Nationals with three to play in the race for home-field advantage in their division series matchup. Between that and possibly keeping the Giants out of the Wild Card game, they have a lot to play for this weekend in San Francisco.

Mariners 3, Athletics 2: Mike Zunino hit a go-ahead home run in the seventh inning to keep the Mariners alive for at least one more day.

Giants 7, Rockies 2: Johnny Cueto started out a bit shaky, giving up two in the top of the first, but he settled down and didn’t allow anything else in his remaining six innings. It was close until the sixth when the San Francisco pulled ahead, thanks in part to an uncharacteristic defensive blunder by Nolan Arenado. The Giants control their own destiny in the Wild Card, standing a game ahead of St. Louis with three to play.

Indians vs. Tigers: POSTPONED: The leaves of brown came tumbling down

Remember in September in the rain
The sun went out just like a dying amber
That September in the rain

To every word of love i heard you whisper
The raindrops seemed to play our sweet refrain
Though spring is here to me it’s still September
That September in the rain

The idiocy of baseball’s replay system was on full display in St. Louis last night

ST. LOUIS, MO - SEPTEMBER 29: Matt Carpenter #13 of the St. Louis Cardinals scores the game-winning run against the Cincinnati Reds in the ninth inning at Busch Stadium on September 29, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Baseball’s current instant replay system, in place since the beginning of the 2014 season, has experienced hiccups, but it has generally avoided extreme controversy or high profile failures. Last night in St. Louis, however, the replay system failed in spectacular fashion, potentially costing a team a playoff berth.

We wrote about the play last night: bottom of the ninth in a tied Reds-Cardinals game, Matt Carpenter on first base, Yadier Molina at the plate. Molina hits a ball which should’ve been a ground rule double, halting Carpenter at third. The umpires missed the ball bouncing out of play, however, and Carpenter was allowed to run home, scoring the winning run. Due to the noise and confusion of the Cardinals’ apparent walkoff win, Reds manager Bryan Price could not hear the phone call from his video coordinator telling him to challenge the play. By the time the message got to Price, he was told his challenge was too late. Game over.

The lack of a replay review in that situation was huge. The call would’ve, without question, been overturned if it were reviewed. If that had occurred, there is a possibility that the Cardinals would’ve lost that game, putting them two games back of the Giants with three to play. Instead, they were gifted a win and are now one game back with three to play. At the very least, this will cause the Giants to have to play one more meaningful game this weekend than they might’ve otherwise had to, in turn giving them one less game to rest players and set up their pitching staff for the Wild Card game. It could also, of course, prove to be the difference between them making the Wild Card game and going home after Sunday’s finale against the Dodgers.

If this comes to pass, Major League Baseball will no doubt characterize Thursday night’s events as a freak occurrence. Just one of those things that you could never predict and thus could never prepare for. If you don’t buy that they’ll admonish you that this outcome would’ve occurred the same way had it happened before replay was instituted in 2014 and, hey, we’re doing the best we can. If you’re still not satisfied, baseball will ignore you and pivot to the fans who care less about it, casting the replay failure as a charming and memorable historical event, a la Merkle’s Boner, the Pine Tar Game or Don Dekinger’s blown call at first base in the 1985 World Series. One which, however bad it seemed at the time, is poised to become just another chapter in baseball’s grand history, ready for highlight reels and preroll ad-sponsored video clips. Baseball will turn the page on this, so why can’t you?

Don’t buy any of that. Not for a second. Don’t buy the notion that this was some sort of freak play because freak plays are, by definition, unforeseeable. And while the narrow specifics of last night’s replay failure in St. Louis may not have been predicted, the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of instant replay as implemented were foreseeable from the moment baseball idiotically decided to use a challenge system to initiate replay reviews.

We sharply criticized the use of a challenge system for instant replay in baseball at the time it was adopted in August 2013. Indeed, we sharply criticized a challenge system almost a year earlier when it was merely suspected that baseball would go in that direction with all of this. The reasons were pretty straightforward. Conceptually speaking, it should not be the responsibility of managers to correct the mistakes or oversights of umpires on the field, which is what a challenge system requires. Moreover, a challenge system, and its rules limiting the number and manner of challenges, subordinates getting the call right to strategy and gamesmanship with respect to when and how to use the arbitrary number of challenges granted, and that makes zero sense when the point is to simply correct mistakes.

The problems with a challenge system were not all conceptual, however. Some were practical. In January 2013, Mike Port, who served as Major League Baseball’s vice president in charge of umpiring between 2005 and 2011, talked about how managers were the weak link in a challenge system, saying “you would be amazed how many managers, coaches, and players are not conversant with the rules.” He might’ve added, as others have, that managers cannot possibly see everything that happens on the field from their vantage point, including balls hit to the boundaries. As a result, the notion that a manager can always instantly and knowledgeably pop out of the dugout to challenge a call is unrealistic. He’s going to need some help.

Which is why every team hired a video coordinator, sitting in the clubhouse watching the plays, ready to call the manager in order to tell him when to challenge and when not to. This arrangement solved one problem — the manager’s inability to see it all — but created others. For one thing, it creates potential inefficiencies and inequalities, with some clubs inevitably having more savvy or highly-skilled coordinators, giving them an edge that fair and impartial umpiring would never have created. For another, it necessitated the use of technology — video and phone lines — and technology can always fail. Just as it did last night when Bryan Price’s phone could not be heard over the roar of the crowd in a pre-playoff frenzy.

It was a technological failure that last night’s crew chief, Bill Miller, implied could’ve been fixed if Price had “made eye contact” or something but, hey, he didn’t, so the game was over. When baseball first announced the challenge system in 2013, John Schuerholz, tasked with defending it, said that it would create “a happy balance that will retain the uniqueness and charm of baseball.” I suppose there’s something “charming” about the need for a major league manager to have to gaze into the eyes of an umpire in order to get a blown call corrected, but one would hope that, in 2016, there are better ways to handle things.

Of course it was obvious that there were better ways to handle it in 2013 when Major League Baseball came up with this dumb system. Baseball’s managers, who did not want a challenge system, knew it. Baseball’s former umpire chief knew it. Even dumb bloggers in their mother’s basement knew it. In 2013, baseball had carte blanche and the support of everyone in the game to institute a system that got calls right. They chose, however, to go with a system that, by definition, does not have getting calls right as its sole objective and by necessity limits the ability for calls to be reviewed in the first place due to managers not being omniscient and omnipresent and due to technological limitations.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of an answered phone call, a playoff spot might be too. It never had to be this way, but baseball wanted it this way. If the Giants end up sitting at home next week rather than playing the Mets in a Wild Card game, I’m pretty sure they won’t be comforted by whatever baloney Major League Baseball dishes out to tell everyone why this is all OK.