World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three

Which ending was weirder: Game 3 or Game 4?

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We sports fans will argue about anything. ANYTHING. Everyone knows that. We will not only argue about who the American League MVP should be, we will argue about the Dolphins’ new helmet (old one better), we will argue about Frank Caliendo’s best impression (Morgan Freeman), we will argue about the strongest arm in the NFL (Joe Flacco usually wins the day, but after Sunday night I’m more convinced that it’s actually Aaron Rodgers), we will argue about what horrible thing should happen to the Jeremy family in the T-Mobile commercials (stranded on desert island without power).

In many ways, we sports fans are like the parents in Woody Allen’s classic “Radio Days.”

Narrator: And then there were my father and mother … two people who could find an argument in any subject.
Father: Wait a minute. Are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?
Mother: No, have it your way. The Pacific is great.

When Sunday’s World Series Game 4 ended, I reflexively tweeted* that, in a way, the finish was even weirder than the already classic obstruction call that ended Game 3.

*New JoeWord: Twex, verb, to tweet something instantly, emotionally and with almost instant regret. Can also be used as a noun.

Several people almost instantly responded with a simple response: No way. And also: You are crazy. And I got a few emails that said: No way. And also: You are crazy. And then a friend of mine wanted to argue that there is NO WAY that Kolen Wong getting picked off to end Game 4 could be weirder than the whole Allen-Craig-Will-Middlebrooks-Jim-Joyce obstruction party that ended Game 3. He too mentioned that I was crazy.

Wait a minute. Are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?

Of course, it doesn’t matter — they’re both weird. They’re both unprecedented (no World Series had ever ended either way). They’re both keyed around colossal blunders that you would not expect Major League Baseball players to make. There’s a bit of controversy in the obstruction, I suppose, while I have not heard anyone say the umpire missed the call on Wong. It doesn’t really seem a subject worth arguing about.

So let’s argue about it anyway.

The thing about the obstruction call is that the only weird part WAS the obstruction. The rest of it was just good and bad baseball. St. Louis’ Jon Jay hit a ground ball that Boston’s Dustin Pedroia stabbed and threw home in time to get the runner. Good baseball. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia then launched the ball somewhere toward third base in an utterly misguided effort to get a runner that was already there. Bad baseball. If third baseman Will Middlebrooks and runner Allen Craig don’t get tied up, Craig scores, the game’s over and nothing especially crazy happened. But they did get tied up, then the outfield throw beat Craig to the plate, and Jim Joyce called obstruction. Weird. No doubt.

But think now about Sunday night’s game. In the ninth inning, the Red Sox led the game by two runs. With one out, that man Allen Craig singleed off closer Koji Uehara and limped to first base. It would have been a double for just about anyone with two functional legs. Uehara is almost unhittable, except by Allen Craig — he must have some Kojinite or something. Anyway, Craig was replaced a pinch runner by Kolen Wong, a 23-year old rookie who was born in Hawaii. Wong had been in the big leagues long enough to get 62 plate appearances — he hit .153/.194/.169, so that wasn’t why he was on the World Series roster. He was there to pinch-run and play some late-inning defense.

Wong did not represent the tying run, of course, so he did not figure to be an important part of the story. The Cardinals were sending up two of their best hitters — Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran — so the focus was on home plate. Uehara had the lowest WHIP in baseball history (for pitchers with 50-plus innings pitched). Carpenter had a legitimate MVP season. Beltran has an amazing postseason history. This was going to be good.

But something really weird was happening in the background. The Red Sox were holding Wong on at first. This was hard to figure. It might have made just a little bit of sense when Matt Carpenter was hitting because there was only one out and pinning Wong at first base kept the double play in order. But let’s be real here: In that situation, almost any other team would concede the double play rather than give up the giant hole on the left side of the infield with a talented left-handed hitter like Matt Carpenter up there. Red Sox manager John Farrell has proven that he dances to his own tune. Anyway, when Carpenter hit an infield pop-up for the second out of the inning that double-play reason was gone.

And still the Red Sox held on Kolten Wong at first base — even with dead-pull hitter Carlos Beltran up next.

Everyone, these days, seems to be talking a lot about the difference between process and results. The discussion is based around the superficially simple idea that you really want to focus on how you do things rather than how they turn out. This can be frustrating, though. Sometimes, a thing done well ends up badly. You might leave an hour early for an important meeting, buy your client’s favorite coffee on the way, then have someone carelessly sideswipe your car, delaying you so long that you show up late with the coffee cold enough to make the client spit it out. You lose the contract. You get demoted. The process was right — leaving an hour early, buying the coffee. But the result was bad.

And, just as frustrating, you might do things COMPLETELY wrong and have them turn out well. You might leave 20 minutes late for that same meeting, catch every light, have the client and your boss stuck in traffic, and have a friendly co-worker give you the client’s favorite coffee at the last possible second, which wins you the contract.

The temptation, of course, is to judge things by the results — and we usually do. The boss in the first scenario might be angry enough to demote you and to give you a giant raise in the second. In reality, the first process is much better than the second and should work much more often. But it’s hard to judge things that way. You wouldn’t give the first guy a raise for losing the client. You would demote the second guy for winning the contract. This is luck. This is randomness. This is life.

The process of holding on Kolen Wong on first base seems to me hopelessly flawed. It seems exponentially more likely that Carlos Beltran would whack a hit through the gaping hole in the infield than anything good happening because you held the runner.

But … the result was shockingly good for Boston. Wong blundered in a way that, sadly, will always attach itself to his name. He learned a bit and Uehara unexpectedly threw to first. Wong’s right foot slipped a bit as he tried to dive back to the bag, and he was out. You can give a million reasons why Wong should not have been picked off. His run wasn’t the important one. There was no need for him to get to second base. His sole purpose out there was to make sure Carlos Beltran got his chance at the plate.

But reasons don’t matter here — nobody was more aware of the situation than Wong. He made a combo physical/mental mistake — a mesical mistake — and he was out.

And I would put that whole series of events — the fact that the Red Sox held on Wong in the first place, the fact that Uehara actually threw over there, the fact that Wong would do the one thing he was out there not to do — as being an even weirder series of events than the Saturday night craziness.

In percentage form, I would put it like this:

Game 3 ending:

Percent chance that Salty would throw the ball (and throw it away): 2%
Percent chance that Middlebrooks and Craig would tangle up: 1%
Percent chance that umpire would call interference: 60%

Total percentage: .012% (1 in 8,333)

Game 4 ending:
Percent chance that the Red Sox would hold on Wong: 5%
Percent chance that Uehara would throw over: 20%
Percent chance that Wong would get picked off: 1%

Total percentage: .01% (1 in 10,000).

So the Game 4 ending was inarguably weirder.*

*These percentages have been verified by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers or someone like them and therefore cannot be argued with, rescinded, not even questioned. Also, the Pacific Ocean is better than the Atlantic.

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:

screen-shot-2016-09-30-at-6-51-30-am

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.