The night John Farrell embraced chaos

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ST. LOUIS — There’s a cliche about managers putting their players in the best position to succeed. A corollary to that is having the best players in the right position, at the right time. Do those things as often as possible and you’re more likely than not to win, right?

Well, sometimes. The Red Sox tested this rule to its absolute limits in Game 3 and, while they got away with it for a few brief minutes, they didn’t for long. John Farrell eschewed conventionality and embraced chaos. But chaos would not cooperate.

It started out defensibly enough, with Farrell trying to get the best matchups he could in the top of the seventh. With Stephen Drew struggling mightily at the plate, Farrell sent Will Middlebrooks in to pinch hit for Drew. That didn’t work — Middlebrooks popped out — but hey, it made some sense. Farrell decided to keep Middlebrooks in the game, sending him in to play third, moving Xander Bogaerts to short.

Which is no real biggie. You gotta try to generate offense if you can. It just didn’t work out. And it makes sense to leave Middlebrooks in. Your roster is only so big, it’s a tie game and you can’t just burn position players. You carry on.

Then in the bottom of the seventh Matt Carpenter hits a ball to short. It’s not the easiest play ever. Bogaerts took a less-than-perfect path to the ball and didn’t square himself to throw it to first. Carpenter beats a throw that David Ortiz couldn’t dig out of the dirt. Maybe even a good first baseman doesn’t dig that out. But I think Stephen Drew makes that play more quickly and cleanly than the relatively inexperienced Bogaerts. Regardless, a runner is on first base.

After Carlos Beltran is hit by a pitch to put another runner on, Matt Holliday comes to the plate. He doesn’t tattoo the ball. It hits the ground not too far in front of the plate as it shoots down toward third and just eludes Will Middlebrooks’ glove.  Does it elude Xander Bogaerts’ glove?  I don’t think it does. It was so close and Bogaerts has that much of a better step at third base. We’ll never know, though.The ball kicked around the left field corner, two runs scored and the Cards took a 4-2 lead. Farrell, while not making any blunders, had less than his best in two critical places and it cost him.

And at that point, Mike Matheny had it all set up: the right people in the right position at the right time. Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal set to throw the eighth and ninth. We saw this in Game 2. We saw this much of the end of the season. Two young studs throwing near triple digits. A Boston team that has often seemed helpless against power pitching this postseason. Good. Night. Irene.

But then baseball happened. And baseball, no matter how much we think we know about it — no matter how much authority, earned or otherwise, we assert with respect to it — occasionally says “ha.” It reminds us that almost all predictions are just guesses. Educated guesses at times, but still just guesses because anything can happen. Balls get through a first baseman’s legs in Game 6 of the World Series. Near-cripples hit home runs off Dennis Eckersley in his prime. Nothing so grand as that happened here, but what seemed highly improbable became reality: Martinez and Rosenthal blew it. The Red Sox dinked, plunked and doinked their way back into a 4-4 tie. Take that probabilities. Chaos will have its way.

At this point I feel like John Farrell started to appreciate the power of chaos. And maybe began to think that he could use it to his advantage. Because at this point he seemed to embrace chaos with both arms and to eschew the notion of matchups and the ideal deployment of resources altogether. How else can we explain Farrell allowing Brandon Workman to face Matt Holliday in the eighth with runners on base when his best reliever — Koji Uehara — was sitting in the bullpen?  But wait! It worked. Holliday flied out and the threat was over.  And maybe it emboldened Farrell even more. What else explains Farrell allowing Workman — an American League pitcher, mind you, — to bat in the top of the ninth inning of a tied World Series game while his best available hitter — Mike Napoli — sat on his bench?

Hell, Farrell wasn’t just eschewing the ideal. He was rejecting the whole idea of the ninth inning mattering at all. Why else would he punt his team’s half of it so decisively? Why else would he head into the bottom of the ninth, on the road, against a team which seems to have more crazy voodoo working in its favor than any team, without using all of his weapons? And continue to do so, not even calling on Uehara until there was a runner on base.

Whatever his reasons, baseball’s unpredictable chaos decided it had led him on enough. It went back to wreaking havoc as it will, this time in the form of the most improbable demolition derby of a game-ending World Series play in recent memory. In a fielder’s choice/nailed at home/interference/walkoff win.

Going with the best matchups doesn’t always work. Embracing chaos doesn’t always kill you. But there’s a reason why managers usually play the percentages. They respect the power of chaos and do what they can to keep it at bay. And I bet John Farrell does so more regularly as long as this World Series continues.

A child was carried out of Yankee Stadium after being hit by a foul ball

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A scary thing just happened in Yankee Stadium. A young fan, it appeared to be a young girl, sitting down the left-field line was struck by a Todd Frazier foul ball. Play was halted on the field as she was attended to. They carried her out, not waiting for a stretcher to come. It was hard to see how bad her injuries were, but those on the field — including Eduardo Escobar of the Twins — were visibly shaken.

Major League Baseball has encouraged — not demanded or required, but merely encouraged — teams to extend netting farther down the foul lines in the name of fan safety. Many teams have done so. The Yankees have not, and have remained somewhat non-committal about it all.

We’ll provide an update of the girl’s condition once it is known.

Everything you wanted to know about collusion but were afraid to ask

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Most of you are likely aware of baseball’s history of collusion. Specifically, the three instances between 1985 and 1988 when the league, the owners and their general managers entered into a conspiracy to suppress salaries by agreeing to share information and to not to sign free agents away from other teams. The scheme, which violated the explicit terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, led to a series of arbitrations which resulted in the owners being forced to pay the players $280 million in damages.

While you may know that large-arc story of collusion, there is an awful lot of stuff relating to it all that is seldom talked about. Interesting stuff which, despite its genesis over 30 years ago still impacts baseball to this very day. If you want to hear some talk about that, I was on the This Week in Baseball History podcast with Michael Bates and Bill Parker last night, and we talked about it, all in honor of the first decision in the three collusion cases which came down 30 years ago this week.

We covered a lot of topics you may not know arose out of the collusion cases. For example:

  • Did you know that the collusion cases led more or less directly to the existence of the Marlins, Rockies, Rays and Diamondbacks?
  • Did you know that it led, eventually, to Bud Selig becoming commissioner?
  • Did you know that it contributed greatly to the 1994-95 labor impasse which led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series?
  • Did you know that it spun off litigation that continued for nearly 20 years after the collusion plan, so that in the year 2005 people were STILL talking about what Steve freakin’ Garvey was supposed to earn back in the 1980s?
  • Did you know that, in one key respect, the collusion cases of the 1980s had their genesis in something Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale did back in 1966?

Maybe you knew some of that, maybe you didn’t, but it was all kinda wild. If the topic interests you, I highly recommend you take a listen to the podcast. We go light on the legalities, heavier on talking about stuff like what might’ve happened if Kirk Gibson signed with the Royals in 1986 and never made it to the Dodgers in 1988. It’s baseball talk that you may not hear every day.