Craig Calcaterra

David Price

Playoff Reset: ALCS Game 6

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Feelin’ pretty smart. Earlier this week I made some big investments over at the New York Word Exchange that are paying off pretty well right now. I dropped $100 on the word “commanding” just before NLCS Game 3 and ALCS Game 4, and that skyrocketed. Then, just as the Blue Jays were putting up those runs on Wednesday, I went big in “pivotal” and “crucial” in time for Game 6. I don’t get rich with this stuff, but I realize good enough returns to cover Christmas shopping and then put the rest in an IRA. Investing is about the future.

Now, on to crucial, pivotal Game 6:

The Game: Toronto Blue Jays vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 8:07 p.m. ET
The Place: Kauffman Stadium
The Channel: FS1
The StartersDavid Price vs. Yordano Ventura
The Upshot: When I saw David Price warming up in the bullpen during Game 5 on Wednesday despite a big Blue Jays lead, I was put in mind of Price’s largely unnecessary relief appearance in the ALDS and wondered what in the heck he had done to tick off John Gibbons. Thankfully he didn’t come into the game and the Jays now have what they traded a nice couple of prospects for: one of the game’s best pitchers on the mound for them in a game they have to win. I don’t put too much stock in “statement games” and storylines and such — baseball is basically randomness set to organ music — but you have to figure that Price is motivated to go eight or nine innings and strike out a gabillion guys simply to show his manager that he’s not a $19.75M swingman. And motivation isn’t totally meaningless.

For Kansas City it’s Yordano Ventura, who faced Price in Game 2. There he left thinking he was going to take the loss only to watch his teammates rally big against Price in the seventh inning. That was pretty great, but it hid the fact that he was sorta “meh” in that game, allowing three runs and eight hits in five and a third. That may be good enough given how many runs both of these teams are scoring, but like I said, my superstitious, magical realism side tells me that Price is gonna come up big tonight and that Ventura needs to be sharp to match him.

Finally, a word about Game 6s. They don’t get the press and the glory of Game 7s, but they’ve always been more interesting to me. I think it’s more of a late-80s NBA thing in my case. I’m too lazy to go back and look, but it at least seemed to me that every series featured some team going up 3-2, losing Game 6 and then totally getting crushed in Game 7, as if they left their souls on the court the day before. I can’t be the only one who felt this way because fan talk seems to be in strong favor of the notion that the team which wins Game 6 has some huge psychological advantage for Game 7, etc. etc. I don’t guess the numbers bear that out, but that’s the vibe.

Which is to say that, despite the fact that the Royals could lose tonight and still go to the World Series with a win tomorrow, they probably should win tonight if they wish their season to continue. I’m already out on some sort of “statement game”-gut instinct limb here with David Price, so there must be powerful forces at work if I’m likewise putting stock in that “crucial and pivotal Game 6” rebop.

Quick, someone open up that first aid kit and apply a copy of “How We Know What Isn’t So” directly to my wounds.

Are the Mets truly a “tortured” team?

Mets fan
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Being a “long-suffering” fan or the fan of a “tortured” team is a relative thing. It’s inherently subjective, of course, because no one talking about such things ever takes other teams or other fan bases into account. Who cares about them? You rooted for your guys, your guys let you down and you suffered for it. QED.

It’s certainly the case that not all suffering is the same. There are teams who have never won a pennant or a championship. Teams which haven’t won it all in the lifetime of most of their current fan base. Teams which lost in heart-wrenching ways. Teams who lost because of fate and teams who lave lost because their ownership is dunderheaded and cold-hearted. Teams who have won a lot but then lost and that loss still hurt despite all the winning that came before. Heck, as the Giants of the past few years showed, you can claim to have undergone “torture” even while en route to three dang championships in five years. If that doesn’t render the entire concept of “torture” in baseball somewhat meaningless I don’t know what does.

The upshot here, though, is not that such torture doesn’t exist. It’s that the story of baseball suffering must be told in 30 different ways because it has experienced by 30 different fan bases in 30 different flavors.

Which brings us to the Mets. With the exception of the Cubs they just dispatched, I think it’s fair to say that the Mets have had more ink spilled about torture, agony and suffering than any baseball team in recent memory. Whether they’re playing well or playing poorly, you don’t have to go long before hearing about those futile teams of the early 60s, the unfulfilled promise of the aborted Strawberry-Gooden dynasty, playing second fiddle to the Yankees for the 1990s and 2000s, the late season collapses of recent years and the ignominy of the Wilpon-Madoff-era scandal and mismanagement. There is a widespread sense that the Mets are somehow a doomed franchise.

But, historically speaking, the Mets’ lot hasn’t been all that bad. They’ve been in existence for 54 seasons. They just won their fifth pennant. Not a bad ratio. Indeed, it’s the best seasons/pennants ratio of any expansion team. In the divisional era (1969-present) only the Cardinals have more NL pennants. The Mets have the same number of titles and pennants as the White Sox, who have been around since 1901. They have more titles than 11 teams in total and more pennants than 13.

That’s pretty good for a team that didn’t even exist when Kennedy got elected. And it’s a track record that a lot of teams would envy. Ask a Mariners fan how the last 39 years have gone and whether they’d want to trade places. A lot of Indians fans have grandparents who weren’t born the last time their club won a title. Many Cubs fans’ great-grandparents weren’t born when they hoisted a flag. We can talk about whether one can truly mourn the absence of something that is in no way part of one’s living memory, but you gotta admit, those fans are WAY more hosed than Mets fans are.

Yet I don’t offer this to discount the feeling of Mets fans, many of whom have suffered for their local nine. I take that suffering at face value because, as I said above, this is subjective stuff and every team’s fans have their own story. But it is clear that there is a certain disconnect between the Mets’ objective success and the level of suffering experienced and expressed. Why?

Part of it is the peaks and valley nature of it, I suppose. When the Mets are good it feels great, but when the Mets are bad there’s a certain, more extreme depth to it. Not in terms of actual losing — since they broke through in 1969 they’ve only lost 100 games once — but in the manner in which they have lost. The Mets tend to lose ugly, with acrimony in the clubhouse and more a feeling that potential has gone woefully unfulfilled as opposed to a feeling that there is a simple dearth of talent to begin with. There are notable late season collapses. No small amount of scandal. How much of this is a function of their actual teams and how much of it is a function of the New York press making a bigger deal out of those depths than most press corps would is unclear, but it’s undeniable that there have been some supremely hard-to-watch Mets teams over the course of their history. And no small number of hard-to-root-for players on those teams.

Another part of it, which is undeniable, is the Yankees factor. They share a city with the most successful franchise in U.S. professional sports and no one ever lets Mets fans forget it. Least of all Mets fans themselves. While Yankees fans and the media often rub their faces in the Yankees’ success and alleged class, Mets fans engage in no small amount of self-flagellation over it. Other two-team cities are on roughly even par. Chicago’s teams have one title in just under a century between them. The Giants and A’s have each had periods of sustained success. The Los Angeles teams aren’t even, really, but they rarely acknowledge each others’ existences to begin with. In New York the comparisons are constant and don’t flatter the Mets in any way. That has to be galling.

But is it torture? Maybe not in any sort of objective sense. There has been a lot of success in Queens since 1962 and here they are, once again, on baseball’s biggest stage, armed with baseball’s best young pitchers and poised to be crowned baseball’s champions.

But don’t tell Mets fans that. They’re the ones over there waiting for that other shoe to drop.

Bronson Arroyo talks about death, “feel” and winning at roulette

Bronson Arroyo
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Normally, when linking an interview of a player, I’ll say “[Reporter] sat down and talked with [Player] of [Team] and . . .” In this case, however, I can’t really do that because I imagine most of us have forgotten who Bronson Arroyo even plays for.

When last we saw him he was with the Diamondbacks. But then he was traded the Braves. Then he was traded to the Dodgers. And, either way, he hasn’t pitched since June of 2014 due to Tommy John surgery. Now he’s in Arizona, nominally with the Dodgers, rehabbing and thinking about life.

And death. A LOT about death, actually, as the intro to Tom Ley of Deadspin’s wonderful interview with Arroyo makes clear. He’s 38 and is sensing mortality. But not despairing. More observing it in himself and others and wanting to be sure to capture and preserve as much of his youth that he has left. It’s rather unusual to hear an athlete talk like this. Most of the time they’re ignoring aging and proceeding as if they’ll never get old. Not because they necessarily believe that, but because they are in a profession that requires them to have the utmost confidence and adopt a mindset that accords with that. Not Arroyo. He knows we’re all dying and that no one can negotiate with entropy. He’s just trying to contend with it as best he can.

In some ways it may be easier for him. The most compelling part of the interview is when he talks about “feel.” He knows he doesn’t have the same physical gifts as most elite pitchers. He never threw  97 m.p.h. and has never had perfect or even consistent mechanics. But he has “feel,” he says. An innate idea of how to pitch. What to throw when and how to throw it that he knows when, well, he feels it. While he may never have been a physical specimen and may be broken down and near the end now, he still has feel and wants to see if he can make it work one last time. Until he’s able to pitch again, he’s testing out his “feel” at roulette too. And he says he’s winning at that too.

Everyone has some thing they do, and likely do well, where they simply don’t think. They just feel their way through it and it clicks somehow. It could be cooking or painting or auto maintenance or playing video games. That thing where someone asks you “how did you do that?” And you say “Um, I dunno. I just sort of did it.” That’s how Arroyo describes pitching. I bet most pitchers do that on some level. The work and the talent matter, obviously, but for the good ones . . . something just clicks as well. Since Arroyo doesn’t rely on his height, strength, crazy velocity or, is seems anyway, some professorial approach to pitching philosophy, it sounds like he relies on that more than most.

Anyway, a great trip inside the mind of an interesting pitcher. Well worth your time if you’re interested in what makes ballplayers tick.