How I learned to stop worrying and love modern playoff baseball

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Relief pitchers recorded 44 of the 51 outs in last night’s Wild Card game. The starting pitcher of the winning team recorded one of them. In all there were eighteen strikeouts, nine walks and five homers allowed, collectively, by eleven pitchers. The game, which did not include a bottom-of-the-ninth, took three hours and fifty-one minutes. Welcome to playoff baseball.

This is maybe the third or fourth year of the quick hooks/long bombs playoff era, and I’m torn about how to think of it all.

On the one hand, it assaults my aesthetic preferences. I’m a pitching guy who has always perceived the game first and foremost through the feats of starting pitchers. It’s a dispositional thing, mostly. My favorite players growing up were usually starters who, rightly or wrongly, I imagined as Davids facing nine Goliaths. I have always appreciated offensive heroics — Kirk Gibson’s homer off of Dennis Eckersley is one of my greatest baseball memories — but my ideal baseball game has always been one in which the drama and narrative comes by virtue of a pitcher’s duel, with the tension building, inning-over-inning, until one of them breaks. Quickly-moving games in which aces, be they well-established or named as such by brevet promotion, work something close to magic as the innings build.

On the other hand, just because a game doesn’t conform to one’s preferences does not mean there isn’t greatness and drama to be found. While the pitching changes themselves — and breaks in the action occasioned by them — are buzzkills, how can you not appreciate the feat of a guy like the Yankees’ David Robertson being pressed into service early and used beyond his normal tolerances? A one-inning, eighth or ninth inning reliever came in in the middle of the third inning and tossed twice as many pitches as he usually does. It was not Jack Morris or Tom Glavine going three times through the lineup, but it was gutsy and it was excellent work and if you can’t appreciate that you’re just being a curmudgeon.

In light of all of that, I’m inclined to hold my complaints and just do my best to go with it.

This is what playoff baseball is now. It got this way by virtue of a lot of logical decisions. Decisions which, in a vacuum, make sense but which collectively have created a product that is somewhat (though, as time goes on, less-and-less) foreign and not necessarily to my liking. I still don’t know how to process these sorts of games as aesthetic experiences, but the guys on the field aren’t there to validate my aesthetic preferences. They’re there to win and they’ll do it whatever way they can. The guys back in the 1980s weren’t trying to deliver a pleasing aesthetic product to me either, after all. They were trying to win however they could. I just came to like what they were doing because that was what I grew up with.

I’ll watch as many playoff games as I physically can because that’s what I like and that’s what I do. I will, no doubt, sigh heavily as games drag on and as managers walk out to make pitching change after pitching change, turning the most important games of the year into bullpen games, the likes of which we’d only see in emergencies and when outcomes were relatively meaningless in the regular season. I’ll take to Twitter and moan about it sometimes too, lamenting that, in October, the game is transformed into something very different from what it is between April and September. I’m old and that’s what old people do.

But I’m going to try to do as little of that as possible. And even if I can’t stifle it too much, I’m not going to let my prejudices about how baseball games are most pleasingly mounted obscure the greatness that still occurs in every single one.

A critical strikeout by a relief ace in a tense situation is just as fantastic if it happens in the fourth inning as it would be in the ninth. A fantastic defensive play is still a fantastic defensive play if happens at 9:30PM or close to midnight. A homer is still a homer no matter if it’s the only one in the game or the sixth. Homers are cool. Baseball games can take the form of any number of narratives, but moments are still moments. If you fail to acknowledge them simply because they aren’t delivered in a manner to which you’re accustomed, it’s your loss. Don’t miss or denigrate the moments because you don’t like how they came to be.

And hey, as I watch all of these games, I’ll likely get at least one classic starting pitching performance somewhere along the way. It’ll be that more special to me when it comes.

Swanson, Olson go deep vs Scherzer, Braves take NL East lead

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ATLANTA — Dansby Swanson and Matt Olson homered off Max Scherzer, lifting the Atlanta Braves to a crucial 4-2 victory Saturday night over the New York Mets and a one-game lead in the NL East.

The defending World Series champions beat aces Jacob deGrom and Scherzer on consecutive nights to take their biggest lead of the season in the division. New York, which held a 10 1/2-game cushion on June 1, faces its biggest deficit of the year with four games remaining.

Atlanta will try for a three-game sweep Sunday night, with the winner earning the season-series tiebreaker between the teams. Even though both teams are headed to the postseason, that’s important because the NL East champion gets a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Swanson’s 24th homer, a go-ahead, two-run shot in the fifth inning, touched off a frenzy among the sold-out crowd at Truist Park, the ball sailing a few rows up into the seats in left-center to make it 3-2. Olson hit his 32nd homer in the sixth, a solo shot into Chop House seats in right to put Atlanta up 4-2.

Austin Riley led off the fourth with a double and scored on Olson’s single to make it 1-all.

Kyle Wright (21-5) gave up two runs and seven hits with one walk and three strikeouts in five innings as he won his eighth straight decision. The Braves have won 16 of his last 17 starts.

New York went up 2-1 in the fifth when Pete Alonso, Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil hit consecutive two-out singles.

The Mets led 1-0 in the first when Brandon Nimmo singled, advanced on a walk and a single and scored on Eduardo Escobar‘s groundout. Wright, who threw 30 pitches in the first, stranded two runners in scoring position to prevent further damage.

Scherzer (11-5) allowed a first-inning single to Riley and a third-inning infield single to Ronald Acuna Jr., who advanced to third on a fielding error by Lindor at shortstop but was stranded when Michael Harris II lined out to center. Scherzer patted his glove and pumped his fist as he walked off the mound.

Scherzer was charged with nine hits and four runs with no walks and four strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings as the Mets were knocked out of first place for only the third day all season.

The Braves have won five of the last six against New York to tie the season series 9-all, outscoring the Mets 37-16 over that stretch.

Atlanta’s bullpen, which posted a 1.70 ERA in September, got a perfect inning from Dylan Lee in the sixth. Jesse Chavez faced four batters in the seventh, Raisel Iglesias faced the minimum in the eighth and closer Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his NL-leading 39th save in 46 chances.

Since the Braves were a season low-tying four games under .500 at 23-27 after play on May 31, they have gone 76-32, tying the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best record in the majors over that span. They were a season-worst 10 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets on June 1.

Wright, the only 20-game winner in baseball this season, hasn’t officially become the first Braves pitcher to lead the league in wins outright since Russ Ortiz had 21 in 2003, but the Dodgers’ Julio Urias has 17 and can’t reach 20 before the regular season ends.

Wright will become the first Braves pitcher since Hall of Famer Tom Glavine in 2000 to lead the majors in wins. Houston ace Justin Verlander also has 17.

Wright began the game 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA in six career starts and one relief appearance against the Mets.

The Braves, who got homers from Riley, Olson and Swanson off deGrom on Friday, lead the NL with 240 homers.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: All-Star RF Starling Marte (right middle finger fracture) has yet to begin swinging or throwing. Manager Buck Showalter said Marte is experiencing less pain but not enough to take the next step in his recovery. Marte has been sidelined since Sept. 7.

Braves: RHP Spencer Strider still has not thrown as he gets treatment on a sore left oblique. Manager Brian Snitker said there is no timetable for the rookie’s return. Strider has been sidelined since Sept. 21.

NICE GLOVE

Harris ran back and jumped to catch Nimmo’s fly against the wall in center field for the first out of the third.

UP NEXT

Mets RHP Chris Bassitt (15-8, 3.27 ERA) will face RHP Charlie Morton (9-6, 4.29) as the teams conclude a three-game series.