Choking, in my view, is what happens when someone faces a pressure situation and responds in an unusual and suboptimal way. Sometimes it’s more physical than mental – I know I missed a couple of wide open nets playing soccer back in the day — and sometimes it’s all mental. My opinion is that Yadier Molina choked when he decided to drop down a sac bunt in the top of the ninth inning down a run against the Padres last night.
Make no mistake: Molina had never before bunted in such a situation. Of the 42 sac bunt attempts he had made in his career, three had come with his team down a run. All three of those — one in 2005, one in 2006 and one in 2007* — had come with his team at home, when playing for the tie makes a lot more sense. They also all came when Molina was a lesser hitter than he is now.
So, Molina made a decision he wouldn’t normally make. It took place in the ninth inning of a big game with the Cardinals on the verge of being swept. And it hurt the Cardinals’ chances of winning (by drastically reducing the chances of a multi-run inning). That’s pretty much my definition of choking.
*(In case you were curious, he was successful on all three of those bunt attempts and two of them helped the Cardinals win the game. The 2005 bunt came in the seventh inning and led to a game-tying run, though given that two hits followed, one guesses they would have at least tied it regardless. In the 2006 game, Molina gave up the out in the ninth and the Cardinals went on to score two runs to win anyway. In the 2007 loss to the Pirates, Albert Pujols ended up popping up with the bases loaded to end it.)
The first game of Thursday’s doubleheader against the Mets in Philadelphia didn’t go so well for the Phillies. The pitching staff — which included two position players — served up 24 runs on 25 hits and seven walks. The defense also committed four errors.
The most damage came in the top of the fifth inning when the Mets hung a 10-spot. That inning featured a balk, two errors, and a grand slam from José Bautista. In the seventh, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler called on position player Roman Quinn to pitch. Quinn gave up a leadoff home run to Michael Conforto. After José Reyes singled, Quinn uncorked a wild pitch, which moved Reyes into scoring position. Kevin Plawecki then knocked him in with a single. In the eighth, the Mets jumped on Quinn again as he loaded the bases, then forced in two runs with walks and gave up a two-run double to Plawecki. Kapler brought in another position player, Scott Kingery, to pitch. Kingery gave up an RBI single to reliever Jerry Blevins before getting out of the eighth inning. Kingery gave up two more runs in the ninth before the game went in the books.
Kingery, by the way, was pitching so slowly that his velocity wasn’t being picked up by the radar guns at Citizens Bank Park, according to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia.
In total, the Phillies’ pitching staff gave up 11 earned runs. It’s the most unearned runs a team has allowed since May 5, 2016 when the Giants gave up 17 runs, only six of which were earned, to the Rockies. The only other time that happened in the 2000’s was on September 28, 2000 when the Blue Jays gave up 23 runs, 10 of which were earned, to the Orioles. A team has yielded 11 or more unearned runs in a single game only 11 times since 1943. The 24 total runs the Phillies allowed were the most a team has allowed since… the Mets gave up 25 to the Nationals on July 31 this year. The 24 runs the Mets scored marked a franchise record. They also became the first team since 1894 to both score 24-plus runs and allow 24-plus runs in a game in the same season.
Thankfully for Phillies fans, Thursday afternoon’s contest was only broadcast on Facebook Live. Which, by the way, is another one of Major League Baseball’s brilliant marketing ideas. When games are broadcast on Facebook Live, they’re blacked out everywhere else, which includes cable TV and MLB.tv.