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For second straight night Ryan Madson blows up in fifth inning

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There were nine innings of baseball tonight, but Game 2 of the 2018 World Series was decided in the fifth.

The top of the fifth didn’t matter all that much, really. The Dodgers went down 1-2-3. But before we get into the consequential bottom half of it, can we take a moment to appreciate just how dang pretty Andrew Benintendi‘s catch of Brian Dozier‘s fly to left field really was?

Cue up the Tchaikovsky and get a load of this:

The Red Sox outfield defense is ridiculously good. So good it makes me wonder if they may not just bench J.D. Martinez for the games in Los Angeles and let him pinch-hit here and there rather than break up this group. If you made me decide right now, that’s what I’d do.

OK, now let’s get into the part of the fifth that decided this game.

The bottom half started so promisingly for Los Angeles. For one thing, they held a 2-1 lead. For another Hyun-Jin Ryu was still on the mound and looked to be cruising along quite nicely. Indeed, he needed only three pitches to get the first two Red Sox out and then went 0-2 on Christian Vazquez. He was only five pitches into the inning and he was a strike away from getting out of it.

It would take 25 more pitches from two pitchers to get that final out and by the time they did, Boston had turned a one-run deficit into a two-run lead they’d never relinquish.

Ryu, it turned out, was out of gas. He gave up a single to Vazquez, a single to Mookie Betts and then he’d walk Andrew Benintendi to load the bases. That led Dave Roberts to call on Ryan Madson. It was the second straight night he went to Madson as the first man out of the pen. In Game 1, we learned later, Madson wasn’t even fully warmed up when he relieved Clayton Kershaw. He’d bounce a pitch into the dirt, walk a batter and then allow two inherited runners to score, the second one proving, eventually, to be the one which gave Boston the winning margin.

Things weren’t much better on this night.

Madson walked the first batter he faced, Steven Pearce, on five pitches, forcing in a run. It really should’ve been just four pitches, as the strike that was called on Pearce was nowhere near the plate. The walk tied the game at two. Madson would throw ball one to the next hitter, J.D. Martinez, before trying to get a get-me-over pitch passed him. That didn’t work and Martinez drove in the Sox’ third and fourth run of the game with a single to right. OK, maybe he should play in Los Angeles. Don’t ask me how. That’s Alex Cora’s job to figure out before Game 3.

After this game it will be Dave Roberts’ job to answer questions, and a lot of those questions are likely to be about the choices he made in the fifth inning. I don’t know if he has any great answers, really. All I know for sure is that, if he was going to pull Hyun-Jin Ryu with two outs in the fifth — and I’d say Roberts probably had to, given that he seemed to be flaming out — maybe he needed to replace him with someone who isn’t Ryan Madson. The same Ryan Madson who wasn’t ready the night before. The same Ryan Madson who, before Game 2, said this about the cold weather in Fenway Park:

“Grip is essential obviously in a breaking ball. And a lot of times with the cold weather, I’m not saying anybody uses anything, but if you use anything, a lot of times it’s not as effective in cold weather.”

Madson is also on record describing facing J.D. Martinez as “being in a pit with a rattlesnake.”  Madson wasn’t physically ready for Game 1. Given these quotes, part of me wonders if he wasn’t mentally ready for Game 2. A bigger part of me wonders if maybe Pedro Baez wasn’t sweating this sort of stuff earlier this afternoon and if, unlike Madson, Baez would not have allowed all five of the runners he’s inherited in the first two games of this series to score.

All I know for sure is that Dave Roberts is catching a lot of hell so far some moves he’s made or hasn’t made in this series. As I wrote last night, he wouldn’t have been if the guys he called on had simply executed. For two straight nights, however, Madson was called on to put out a fire in the fifth inning. For the second straight night he failed to do so. It makes one wonder if, perhaps, he should not have been called on at all.

Neal Huntington thinks players should be allowed to re-enter games after concussion testing

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Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli, who has suffered many concussions throughout his 12-year career, was hit on the back of the helmet on a Joc Pederson backswing Saturday against the Dodgers. Through Cervelli remained in the game initially, he took himself out of the game shortly thereafter and went on the seven-day concussion injured list on Sunday.

Perhaps inspired by Saturday’s event, Pirates GM Neal Huntington suggested that players should be allowed to re-enter games once they have passed concussion tests, the Associated Press reports. Huntington said, “Any player that had an obvious concussion risk incident should be allowed to be removed from the game, taken off the field, taken into the locker room, assessed by a doctor, assessed by a trainer, go through an extended period of time and then re-enter the game. Because right now, all of this has to happen on the field.”

Huntington added, “The player has to feel pressure as he’s standing there with 30,000 or 10,000 or 50,000 eyes on him. He has to feel pressure to make a decision whether (he’s) in or (he’s) out of this game. He knows if he takes himself out and he’s the catcher, there’s only one other catcher, and the game becomes a fiasco if that other catcher gets hurt.”

Huntington, who has been forward-thinking on a number of other issues, has it wrong here. The concussion protocols were created because players frequently hid or under-reported their injuries in order to remain in the game. Especially for younger or otherwise less-proven players, there is pressure to have to constantly perform in order to keep one’s job. Furthermore, there is an overarching sentiment across sports that taking time off due to injury makes one weak. Similarly, playing while injured is seen as tough and masculine. Creating protocols that take the decision-making out of players’ hands keeps them from making decisions that aren’t in their own best interests. Removing them would bring back that pressure for players to hide or minimize their ailments. If anything, MLB’s concussion protocols should become more stringent, not more relaxed.

The powers that be with Major League Baseball have no doubt followed the concussion scandal surrounding the National Football League. In January, the NFL settled for over $1 billion with retired players dealing with traumatic brain injuries, including dementia, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. For years, the league refused to acknowledge the link between playing football and CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which is a neurodegenerative disease that can lead to dementia and has many negative effects, such as increasing the risk of suicide. Since baseball isn’t often a contact sport, MLB doesn’t have to worry about brain injuries to this degree, but it still needs to take preventative measures in order to avoid billion-dollar lawsuits as well as avoiding P.R. damage. In December 2012, former major league outfielder Ryan Freel committed suicide. Freel, who claimed to have suffered as many as 10 concussions, suffered from CTE. MLB players can suffer brain injuries just like football players.

Huntington seems to be worried about not having enough rostered catchers in the event one or two catchers get injured. That is really an issue of roster management. Carrying only two catchers on the roster is a calculated risk, often justified. Huntington can ensure his team never has to be put in the position of not having a catcher in an emergency by rostering a third catcher. Rosters are expanding to 26 players next year, by the way.