Yesterday represented the final time this season where we get more than two baseball games. A crime, but also a great chance to actually savor and enjoy each game, rather than having one game rush past your eyes as the next high-stakes battle begins. I’m all for entertainment but there is too much to miss when trying to take in all this great action in one single day.
That said, yesterday was pretty much perfect. What happened, anyway?
Rays Pulling the Strings
As a baseball fan, you either believe in the magic of Joe Maddon or you do not. Stuff either happens to him and his team or he makes it happen. There is no middle ground. While Rays haven’t actually won a playoff series since reaching the 2008 World Series, they keep sneaking into the playoffs and celebrating as one ludicrous move after another pays off.
Last night, it was the decision to move his DH, Matt Joyce, into the game to replace the injured Wil Myers in right field. This cost the Rays their DH slot, meaning the pitcher’s spot was now live in the batting order. A double switch here and a backup catcher due up third and, suddenly, you have Jose Lobaton hitting walkoff bombs off the previously untouchable Koji Uehara.
It is important to note that without some other managerial finagling, there might not be an opportunity for Lobaton to save the day.Up one in the nineth, Maddon went to his closer Fernando Rodney. Rodney has really battled his control at times this season, including the last few weeks as the Rays fought for the playoff life.
With runners on second and third with just one out, Maddon decided on pitching to Dustin Pedroia, rather than walking him to load the bases. An RBI groundout is an unsatisfying outcome for those looking for absolution but Maddon was right not to load the bases for a pitcher who appeared like he had no idea of the strike zone.
Sometimes these things work out. Joe Maddon and the Rays do not will themselves into these situations. The old saying “you make your own luck” gives Tampa Bay’s manager more credit that is due and attributes a certain agency over events well beyond their control. But, to their credit, the Rays have a long history of making decisive moves that ever so slightly tip the scales in their favor. Sure beats waiting around for conventional knowledge to catch up to your unconventional situations.
The Atlanta Braves’ Naked Lunch
Pinning the Braves failures on the shoulders of Fredi Gonzalez sort of misses the point. The Braves 2013 season is finished because they played the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that looked superior in nearly all facets of the game. The Braves lost not because they started Freddy Garcia in Game Four of a 2013 elimination game or because they called on David Carpenter to protect a late lead.
The Braves are the opposite of the Rays in a way. The Braves to not make decisive moves in the heat of the moment. They are the Braves. They are methodical. They are by the “largely unwritten” book. They like good soldiers, not rogues. They systematically weed out potential problem players and unpredictable hot heads in favor of guys who play The Braves Way.
The Braves Way kept Craig Kimbrel in the bullpen as Atlanta’s season ended last night. More than just a stifling culture conspired against the Braves this season, from injury to Tim Hudson and half their bullpen to the complete inability of B.J. Upton to hold a starting job.
Moreover, the Braves lost. They lost in the Division Series just as they have every time they reached the playoffs since 2001. The Braves lost, but the Dodgers also won.
The Dodgers won last night because they started Clayton Kershaw, and he was excellent. The choice to start him on short rest looks good now but that final verdict is still far from official. Only as his fatigue builds throughout the postseason can the impact of this start truly be measured.
The Dodgers won because Juan Uribe could not get a bunt down. They won because Juan Uribe hit a massive home run and they were alive to play in this game because Juan Uribe posted one of the best seasons of his long career. Juan Uribe!
The Braves are done and the Dodgers are waiting for their next opponent. The Braves lost and the Dodgers won. You cannot have one without the other, despite what Braves detractors want to believe.
Wacha and the Cards
If you were to tab a pitcher who might have what it takes to throw a no-hitter, you could do a lot worse than picking…nobody. Or everybody. Because predicting no-hitters is impossible, you see. It could be anyone, the best starter of his generation or Henderson Alvarez.
If you really wanted to pick a no-hit candidate, you could do much worse than Michael Wacha on Monday afternoon. A fly ball pitcher working in a big park who can touch the upper nineties and rack up strikeouts is a pretty good place to start.
Such is the nature of these two teams that, when Pedro Alvarez came to the plate in the 8th inning, then impending no-hitter was very much front of mind. Wacha dominated the Pirates through seven innings, it only seemed the trivial matter of whether or not he would finish his no-no.
And then Pedro Alvarez did the thing Pedro Alvarez does best of all, launching a massive home run that may or may not have ended up at the bottom of the river.
Not only was the no-hitter gone, but this was suddenly a one-run game. Fortunately for the Cardinals, they turned to their youthful bullpen to get five outs and send the series back to St. Louis. Which, of course, they did. Meaning it is now Gerritt Cole’s turn to weave some magic in an opposing ballpark. With Adam Wainwright on the mound. Oh, Pittsburgh. It’s never easy, is it.
The Oakland A’s put on an Oakland A’s clinic yesterday in Detroit. A lesson in the way of the new Moneyball. No, that was a book embelished by a wonderful narrative non-fiction writer. The Oakland A’s are a baseball team, a good baseball team that figured something out – home runs are the lifeblood of the modern game.
If not the lifeblood, then they are at least very, very important. It is important to hit them and it is just as important not to give them up. So that is exactly what they did in Game Three against the Detroit Tigers: they hit three home runs and did not surrender one.
Their pitching staff didn’t strike many Tigers out but they kept the ball in the ballpark. They hit three, and the ghost of Miguel Cabrera* and friends hit none. Manager Bob Melvin yanked Jarrod Parker after just 73 pitches, an odd decision considering hitters actually fared better against Parker the first time they see him compared to subsequent PAs later in the game.
* – There is definitely something wrong with Miguel Cabrera right now. The A’s threw him nothing but fastballs yesterday and more than 85% heat during this series. That ain’t right.
The A’s also relied on the considerable firepower of Grant Balfour‘s insanity to their great advantage Monday afternoon. Balfour and Victor Martinez became embroiled in a shouting match after Grant Balfour…did usual Grant Balfour stuff – he ran his mouth because that’s just kinda his thing.
The Tigers have more important things to worry about than the likes of Grant Balfour. They now face elimination in a year they clearly marked as “win-now.” Their window is closing, as Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder age and Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter and the like try to hold off age as long as they can. The Tigers pitching staff will always give them a chance – both in this series and moving forward.