kozmaerror

Red Sox capitalize on Cardinals’ blunders in Game 1

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BOSTON — You ever had one of those days when nothing goes right? I’m not talking about big and tragic things going wrong, no, just little things. Little stupid things. You wake up a half hour late because a blackout knocked out your alarm clock. Because of the blackout, the water in the shower is ice. You can’t find your keys. Your car is almost out of gas, so you have to stop at a gas station. You quickly realize you left your wallet at home. You scrounge enough change out of your ashtray to pay for .9 gallons worth. Your boss is waiting when you show up late. The “E” key on your computer is stuck and you can’t fix it. Nobody is around in the tech department. You want a snack but you left your wallet at home. You miss the call back from the tech department. Your boss wants the report, but you have to tell her your computer broke. She angrily suggests you call the tech department. You go out to lunch with borrowed money and get pulled over for a busted tailpipe — and you don’t have your driver’s license because you left your wallet at home. And on. And on. And on.

This was World Series Game 1 for the St. Louis Cardinals.

The final score was 8-1 Boston, the final box score showed the Cardinals committing three errors, throwing one wild pitch, hitting into one devastating double player and striking out five times looking. But those numbers don’t capture the St. Louis feeling. It was embarrassing. It was humiliating. It was so utterly frustrating. There they were in Fenway Park at the World Series, the childhood dream, and then stuff started going wrong, and more stuff started going wrong, and the Boston players fed on their clumsiness, and more stuff went wrong, and the Boston crowd roared happily, like they could not even believe their good fortune. And more stuff went wrong.

The horror probably began with the blown call. That was the first inning, Boston had runners on first and second with one out when David Ortiz hit a ground ball to second that seemed a likely double play. St. Louis’ Matt Carpenter fielded it cleanly and threw to shortstop Pete Kozma. The ball grazed off Kozma’s glove. It was a dreadful defensive play by Kozma, a lost-in-the-fog moment, but umpire Dana DeMuth one-upped him. He called the runner out at second. He apparently thought Kozma had caught the ball and it had popped out when he was making the exchange from glove to hand.

I’m not sure how DeMuth could have thought that. Replays showed two thing clearly — 1) they showed that Kozma did not come close to catch the ball and 2) they showed DeMuth looking RIGHT AT THE PLAY. But he missed the call, the runner was sent off, it was first and third with two outs for Boston.

Only then Red Sox manager John Farrell came out and, I like to think, told DeMuth he had just made the worst World Series call in a quarter century and that he might be remembered for it forever. Maybe Farrell didn’t say that. Whatever he did say, the next thing you knew there were six umpires huddled together to talk about the play. They talked for roughly nine hours. And then, finally, they overruled DeMuth and called the runner safe. It was now bases loaded and one out for Boston.

That put Cardinals manager Mike Matheny in a dreadful spot. On the one hand, he had to go out and argue vociferously — umpires almost NEVER overturn calls. It was so out of character that even Farrell would later admit, “Typically they’re probably going to stand pat.” On the other hand, though, Matheny KNEW the original call was not just wrong but dreadfully, horribly wrong. It wasn’t just a missed judgment call. It was a colossal blunder. The umpires awkwardly had gotten the call right. But they had gotten it right by doing things they almost never do.

“I get trying to get the right call,” Matheny said after the game. “I get that.”

The way Matheny said it, no, you didn’t think he got it at all. That odd overturn was the kick start, it was like waking up a half hour late. It knocked the Cardinals off-balance and they never did regain their balance. They never quite caught up. The next batter, Mike Napoli, cracked a three-run double to left-center. Cardinals’ centerfielder Shane Robinson kicked the ball around a bit in the outfield, which probably allowed that third run to score. Originally that was called an error. Later, the official scorer took the error away. I can only assume it was mercy.

Next inning, Boston’s Stephen Drew hit a pop-up almost straight up. It was a play every Little League team featuring players 10-and-over would make. This time, the ball dropped one foot in front of St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright, who has won a Gold Glove and is one of the better fielding pitchers in the game. That was NOT called an error because … well, because the error is a dumb statistic. But three batters later, Shane Victorino hit a ground ball that shortstop Kozma booted and that WAS called an error. Two more runs scored. It would have been more if Carlos Beltran had not made an amazing and shockingly-graceful, over-the-wall catch on Ortiz’s would-be grand slam.

Beltran had to come out of the game after that because of the way he hit the wall.

All night it was like that. Even good things turned bad. Bad things turned worse. Cardinals hitters who had started off the game very aggressive (“No surprise, we were expecting that,” Red Sox starter Jon Lester would say) suddenly went timid. They watched strike after strike go by.

In the fourth, with a chance to get back into the game, St. Louis’ David Freese hit into a double play with the bases loaded. In the seventh, Freese made a throwing error to allow Dustin Pedroia to reach base. Matheny decided to bring in lefty Kevin Siegrist to face Ortiz. Lefties hit .118 against Siegrist this year and none had hit a home run off him. Until Ortiz. What a player. What a force. He launched the first pitch over the wall and into the stands in right-center. He trotted around the bases at Big Papi speed. He came out of the dugout to acknowledge the cheers.

The Cardinals just looked utterly lost. People will try to assign reasons because that’s what we do at big sporting events. We try to find logical explanations for sometimes illogical things. We will say the intense pressure of the World Series crushed the Cardinals. We will say the Boston crowd simply imposed their will. We will say it was the Fenway ghosts. Maybe it was those things. Maybe not. Maybe it was just one of those rotten days.

“We had a wakeup call,” Matheny would say afterward. “That is not the kind of team we’ve been all season. I think we’re frustrated. Embarrassed to a point. We had an opportunity to show the kind of baseball we played all year long, and it didn’t look anything like we showed today.”

The numbers are not promising for the Cardinals or any other team that loses the first game of the World Series. Those teams lose almost two-thirds of the time. In the last quarter century only the 1996 and 2009 Yankees, the 2002 Angels and the 1992 Blue Jays have lost the first game and come back to win the World Series.

But the Cardinals are a good baseball team. And it was just one bad day. In baseball, you find, there are people who believe in momentum carrying over and people who do not. As you might imagine, the Cardinals are now firmly in the camp of people who do not.

“These days,” Matheny said with a shrug, “you just have to let go of them.”

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]