It’s a Gaus, Gaus, Gaus—sort of

Kevin Gausman

Kevin Gausman isn’t exactly swinging into McCovey Cove here—and he needed a little help from his friend sliding home head first to win Friday night.

Look, I don’t want to be a spoil sport. OK, maybe I do. A little. But anyone getting any ideas about celebrating Giants pitcher Kevin Gausman’s game-winning pinch loft Friday night as evidence against the universal designated hitter . . .

Seriously?

It’s not as though it meant the National League West for the re-tread Giants. They’d already nailed a postseason berth days before. It’s not as though Gausman was the best pinch-hitting option available to manager Gabe Kapler in the bottom of the eleventh with the bases loaded, one out, and relief pitcher Camilo Doval due up.

And, it’s not as though Braves reliever Jacob Webb threw him something with a nasty enough dance to the plate that the biggest boppers in the National League would have had trouble keeping time and step with it.

So come on. Let’s have a little fun with the home crowd in Oracle Park booing the hapless Gausman—who’s actually in the back of this year’s Cy Young Award conversation, having a splendid season on the mound (he woke up this morning with a 2.78 ERA, a 2.88 fielding-independent pitching rate, a 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 10.7 strikeouts-per-nine rate)—because they had no clue Kapler was clean out of position players to send to the plate.

Let’s have a little more fun than that with Webb and Gausman midget-mud-wrestling the count from 1-2 to a full count, because Webb couldn’t find the zone with a search party and a bloodhound and because the Braves handed Evan Longoria and Donovan Solano free passes to load the pads in the first place.

Let’s have a little more fun than that with the Oracle crowd going from lusty booing to standing-O cheering after Webb pumped and delivered a 3-2 meatball that had so much of the zone a real hitter could have turned it into a walk-off grand slam while looking over his shoulder at Brandon Belt in the Giants’ on-deck circle.

But let’s give ourselves a reality check. Gausman’s loft to Braves right fielder Joc Pederson didn’t exactly push Pederson back to the edge of the warning track. It landed in Pederson’s glove while he took a couple of steps forward in more or less shallow positioning.

Shallow enough that the game missed going to the twelfth by about a foot south, on what might have been an inning-ending double play. Except that Brandon Crawford—who’d opened the inning as the free cookie on second and took third on Webb’s wild pickoff throw—had to beat Pederson’s throw home by sliding head first to the plate.

Crawford would have been dead on arrival if he hadn’t taken the dive and traveled beneath Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud whirling around for the tag that would have gotten the veteran Giants shortstop squarely even if he’d dropped into a standard slide. Even Gausman knows he had a better chance at breaking the land speed record aboard a Segway than there was of him walking it off.

“More than anything,” he said in the middle of his did-I-do-that postgame, “I was trying to not look ridiculous, just take good swings, swing at strikes. Obviously I never would have thought I would have got in that situation coming to the ballpark today.”

Not with a .184/.216/.184 slash line entering Friday night’s follies. Not with a lifetime .036 hitting average entering this season, despite having a reputation as the Giants pitcher with the best bat control at the plate. Not with tending to go the other way when he does connect on those very rare occasions. “Um, well, that’s the first time I’ve pulled a ball,” he said post-game. “Like, in the big leagues.”

Thanks to the rule that says a sacrifice fly doesn’t count as an official at-bat, Gausman’s loft actually cost him four points on his on-base percentage.

The game got to the extras in the first place because, after d’Arnaud himself hit one into the left field seats with two aboard and one out to overthrow a 4-2 Giants lead in the top of the ninth, another Giants pinch-hitter—Solano, hitting for earlier pinch-hitter/outfield insertion Mike Yastrzemski—hit a two-out, 2-2 service from Braves reliever Will Smith only a few feet away from where d’Arnaud’s blast landed.

After not having swung the bat in a major league plate appearance in three weeks, thanks to a turn on the COVID list, Solano at least entered a record book. His game-tyer meant the Giants have hit a franchise-record sixteen pinch-hit bombs this season, and possibly counting.

Gausman, on the other hand, is only the third pitcher in the Giants’ San Francisco era to win a game with a pinch swing. He joins Don Robinson (bases-loaded pinch single, 1990) and Madison Bumgarner (pinch single, 2018) without a base hit for his effort.

The way the Giants have played this year, cobbled together like six parts Clyde Crashcup and half a dozen parts Rube Goldberg, nobody puts anything past them now.

Gausman is respected as one of the nicer guys in the game. Before Friday night’s contest the Bay Area chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America handed him their Bill Rigney Award for cooperation with the Bay Area press. “He’s been terrific, including during some trying times with his family,” said the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Susan Slusser announcing the award presentation.

But he didn’t really do any anti-DH people any real favours after all. He hasn’t augmented any legitimate case for keeping any pitchers swinging the bat any further than this year. The best thing you can say for his Friday night flog is that he connected. He ought to buy Crawford steaks for the rest of the season for sliding astutely.

This year’s pitchers at the plate woke up this morning with a whopping collective .110/.150/.142 slash line and an absolutely jaw-dropping .291 OPS. They’re also leading the league in wasted outs (388 sacrifice bunts), with the next-most-prolific such among the position players being the shortstops. (55.)

Now, for the money shot. Belt is one of the National League’s more consistent hitters this season. He took a .942 OPS into Friday night’s game. He whacked a two-run homer to vaporise a Giants deficit in the first inning. With one out, would any sane manager ask a pitcher to do anything more than stand at the plate like a mannequin, with a bat like that waiting on deck to hit with ducks on the pond?

Kapler’s living the proverbial charmed life. As a player, he was a member of the 2004 Red Sox who finally won their first World Series since the Spanish flu pandemic. He wasn’t exactly one of those Red Sox’s big bats, but he was a late-Game Four insertion as a pinch runner, with then-manager Terry Francona letting him hang around in right field as the Red Sox nailed the Series sweep in the ninth.

As the Dodgers’ director of player development in 2015, Kapler got away with a feeble response at best, when a couple of Dodger minor leaguers were accused plausibly of videotaping an assault by two young women against a third, plus sexual misconduct involving a player’s hand down the victim’s panties. The team elected not to report it to the commissioner’s office or to the police—and he didn’t go over their heads to do so, either.

Then, Kapler was run off the Phillies bridge because, in two seasons, he couldn’t marry his analytical bent to the live situations in front of him and the Phillies ended up three games under .500 total with him on their bridge.

Now, he has the bridge of the National League West leaders fighting tooth, fang, claw, and charm against those pesky Dodgers with a two-game division lead and fourteen games left. He’d better not get too comfortable emptying his bench again any time soon. His pitchers are only hitting .081 this season. And they won’t always have Crawford on third to bail them out in a pinch.

“It’s been a show for quite awhile”

Bryce Harper

Philadelphia’s king of swing launches one into the second deck Thursday night.

When April was just about over, Bryce Harper resembled dead meat. He’d just been nose-coned by an errant Genesis Cabrera fastball, and it turned out worse for him. No, his schnozz wasn’t smashed, but the pitch ricocheted onto his left wrist.

After an April that finished with him showing a 1.063 OPS Harper’s May was abbreviated to fifteen games and a .634 OPS to show for them. Clearly enough the lefthanded launcher struggled through the injury, making far less than his normal hard contact, and probably should have been tied down to rest and let it heal properly.

Finally, after an 0-for-5 game on 22 May, Harper was indeed put on the injured list. Phillies manager Joe Girardi got caught lying through his teeth about the depth of Harper’s wrist injury. Some believed the Phillies would rather “engage in subterfuge to trick the opposing manager than play with an actual full roster.”

One way or the other, for all the tricks and lack of treats, Harper clawed his way back. All the way back to awakening this morning with the major league leadership in OPS (1.055) and OPS+ (183). All the way back to the rare standing of a .300+/.400+/.600+ slash line. (Harper’s: .314/.428/.627.)

All the way back into the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award conversation. All the way back from that balky wrist to entering a weekend set against the Mets as Philadelphia’s king of swing.

All the way back to helping as big as Harper can help in yanking the Phillies back to three games behind the Braves in the National League East and 2.5 games away from the second National League wild card.

If you wonder how big that can be at the most extreme, you should have watched the Phillies resurrect themselves against the Cubs, 17-8 Thursday night—with Harper doing the critical damage, especially a mammoth home run in the seventh.

So the Cubs battered seven runs out of the Phillies in the top of the third? The Phillies tore seven out of the Cubs in the bottom of the fourth. The Cubs who thought they had it made after the third didn’t know yet that they’d all but had it for the night.

Harper had already walked twice in the game when he squared off against Cub reliever Manuel Rodrigez in the bottom of the sixth with first and second and one out. On 1-2 he hit a long double sending Odubel Herrera home with the tiebreaking run. One out later, Didi Gregorius—who’d been drilled by a Cabrera pitch immediately after Harper took one off his beak in that late April game—singled Juan Segura and Harper home to make it 10-7, Phillies.

The next inning, after Willson Contreras got one back for the Cubs with a homer in the top of the frame, Harper got even more frisky. After Herrera doubled a pair home with one out, Harper faced yet another Cub reliever, Rex Brothers, and showed anything but brotherly love with first and third—he hit a three-run homer.

Segura merely added insult to injury with a two-run double in the bottom of the eighth. The Cubs, who’ve been dying since their trade deadline fire sale, gave up the ghost several innings earlier.

They must have wondered whether they’d been a little too greedy over apparent Phillies generosity in that seven-run third. Phillies starter Matt Moore walked the bases loaded and then hit Ian Happ with a pitch to start the Cub fun. Contreras then lined Rafael Ortega home, Patrick Wisdom sent a two-run double to the back of left center, and—one strikeout later—Matt Duffy hit one over the left center field fence.

The Phillies must have said to themselves, “Greed shall be its own downfall” in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen started that party with a two-run double down the right field line. A base hit and a hit batsman later, Matt Joyce wrung Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks for a bases-loaded walk. Herrera drove Brad Miller home with a base hit, and Freddy Galvis scored on a ground out, before Harper drew his second walk and J.T. Realmuto singled Joyce and Herrera home.

The full fifth and the top of the sixth passed cleaner than hounds’ teeth before Matt Vierling opened the bottom with a base hit up the pipe. After Herrera reached on an error at first base and Segura forced Vierling at third, Harper hit one the other way down the left field line to break the seven-all tie, before coming home with Segura when Grigorius shot one through the hole at shortstop into left.

Those were just warmups for what proved the main attraction in the seventh, with Herrera on third, Segura on first, and Harper hitting Brothers’s first pitch into the second deck behind right field.

“It feels good,” Harper said post-game, “but we’ve got a while to go. I want to keep playing well and have good at-bats, have good games and just be where we need to be down the stretch.”

“We’re all involved in this, right? And the game is always, to me, about our team,” Girardi said. “But he’s a big reason why we’ve hung around, just because of the season that he’s had and the last two-and-a-half months, whatever he’s done. It’s been incredible to watch. It’s been a show for quite awhile.”

“The challenge,” writes The Athletic‘s Matt Gelb, “has always been squeezing enough from the roster around Harper. It is flawed and will continue to be flawed even if the Phillies sneak into the postseason. It will not dampen the doubts about the organization’s long-term plan. But Harper has given the Phillies everything he promised, and the rest of the franchise has seventeen days to make it count for something.”

Neither Girardi nor the Phillies want the show to end. It might or might not be just a sliver outside possibility’s realm. But in theory, at least, they could even reach the postseason by a nose.

Luis’s pieces

Luis Rojas

If you want to know why Met fans call for manager Luis Rojas’s execution every other day, Tuesday night’s loss to the Cardinals handed the prosecution incontrovertible evidence.

Maybe it’ll be better all around if the Mets end up out of the postseason picture, after all. If the manner in which manager Luis Rojas ran Tuesday’s 7-6 loss to the Cardinals is any indication, the Mets would be lucky to get past a wild card game, never mind to it in the first place.

No, we’re not taking the Mets’ hitters off the hook for going a measly 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position. We’re not taking them off the hook for killing four rallies by hitting into double plays.

We’re not taking them off the hook for one of those double plays coming in the tenth inning, after a walk to Jonathan Villar added to the free cookie on second to start the inning. And we’re not taking Pete Alonso off the hook for hitting into two of those double plays plus striking out with first and second to kill a fifth-inning chance at tying or taking a lead.

But we’d like to know what on earth Rojas was or wasn’t thinking, after he lifted his starting pitcher Marcus Stroman following six innings of two-run ball in which his only troublesome inning was the fourth, when the Cardinals scored those two runs on a deep infield hit and a sacrifice fly.

Since Rojas entered the game knowing he wasn’t going to use either Seth Lugo or Miguel Castro, he brought Aaron Loup in for the seventh. Watching Loup use only seven pitches to get two fly outs and a swinging strikeout, it didn’t cross Rojas’s mind that Loup might have another healthy and even economical inning in him.

No, Rojas went instead to Jeurys Familia, who’d been less than effective in his previous two outings, rather than giving the ball to his usual eighth-inning option Trevor May. May might have been pried for three runs in his previous outing (against the Yankees, in the 9/11 anniversary game), but he’d been sharp and un-scored upon in nine of his prior ten gigs until then.

Familia surrendered a one-out walk (to Paul Goldschmidt) and a two-run homer immediately to follow (by Tyler O’Neil). Not until the Cardinals followed at once with Nolen Arenado singling and Yadier Molina reaching on catcher’s interference did Rojas finally remember May. And May only caught Dylan Carlson looking at strike three before getting Edmundo Sosa to ground out for the side.

Rojas also didn’t read the deep text when inconsistent Edwin Diaz pitched a scoreless ninth with only thirteen pitches needed. Sure, Harrison Bader led off reaching on an error, but the Cardinals handed Diaz and the Mets a present by ordering pinch-hitter Lars (Sometimes You Feel Like a) Nootbaar to sacrifice. After such Cardinal generosity, Diaz needed only two pitches to get rid of Tommy Edman on a ground out and four to get Goldschmidt to foul out for the side.

Then Javier Baez led off the bottom of the ninth against Cardinals reliever Geovanny Gallegos by hitting the first pitch of the turn over the left field fence to tie it up at four. Three Met outs later, Diaz might well have been able to pitch the tenth successfully, leaving Rojas the option of Heath Hembree for the eleventh.

But no. He lifted Diaz and sent Hembree out for the tenth. Hembree struck O’Neil out swinging to lead off. The Mets ordered Arenado to first on the house and got exactly what they bargained for, Molina hitting into a double play to end the inning. It only cost Hembree seven pitches (remember, you don’t have to throw four wide ones for an intentional walk anymore) to do it. There might have been no harm, no foul if Rojas sent Hembree back out for the eleventh, either.

“I can’t ask any more from the guys,” Rojas said post-game, when asked why he didn’t push his pen men just a little bit harder considering the time running out on the Mets’ hair-thin postseason chances.

“Right now, it would be unfair,” he continued. “I can’t put them in a situation where it would compromise anything else, their stuff, their health. You might run a guy out there and he might not be the same pitcher you’re asking the guy to be, as well. There’s just a lot of things that go into it. Ideally, the manager wants to pitch everyone every day, but there’s some other things that come into play when you talk. It’s the player’s feel, the pitching coach’s feel, my feel.”

Where was the feel when the best options Rojas played pitched so economically in their effectiveness that an extra inning from any of them might have made a phenomenal difference?

There came harm and foul when Rojas instead went to Jake Reed, a 28-year-old rookie not long returned from the injured list and not having thrown a major league inning since mid-August. The good news was Reed, too, pitching economically enough—eight pitches total.

But then there’s the bad news: 1) His third pitch was hit for a leadoff single, sending the free cookie on second to third post haste. 2) His sixth pitch was hit for an RBI single to break the four-all tie. 3) His eighth pitch was turned into a two-run single.

Then Rojas brought in Trevor Williams, his import from the Cubs and normally a starter but well between assignments and able to throw part or all of an inning if necessary. Williams shook off a base hit to get Goldschmidt to dial Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.

Now the questions would include why not have Williams open a clean inning (if you didn’t count the cookie on second) instead of opening it with a rusty rookie? Said Rojas: Well, Reed’s a reliever and Williams is a starter. There’ve been how many skippers burned alive when they went by The Book instead of what their eyes, ears, and actual numbers whispered in their ears?

Going his Book enabled Rojas to pull the lulu of the night—turning to spaghetti bat Albert Almora, Jr. to pinch hit in the bottom of the eleventh, after the Mets pulled back to within a run on an RBI double and a throwing error by Cardinals reliever Kim, and with Williams’s lineup slot due up.

He picked Almora over Luis Guillorme. After opening 0-2, Almora wrestled his way to a full count—and grounded out modestly to end it. Why Almora over Guillorme? “Against a lefty,” Rojas said, “not the right matchup.”

Which part of his Book did Rojas ignore, in deciding the righthanded Almora was his best chance to tie or win despite the fact that Almora’s been hitting like . . . a pitcher, this season? (Slash line: .115/.148/.173.)

Which part of that Book did Rojas ignore in deciding Guillorme the lefthanded bat had no business going to the plate in that spot . . . even with his .344 on-base percentage against portside pitching in 33 plate appearances this season?

(What’s the name of his Book, anyway? For Whom the Bell Tolls?)

Maybe Guillorme would have poked an RBI hit to tie or even win the game. Maybe he would have ended the game the same way Almora did; maybe he might have flied out to end it. But he’d have given Rojas and the Mets the absolute better shot at keeping the game alive or winning it.

The only time Rojas did set his Book to one side Tuesday night was taking Familia over May. As Casey Stengel might have said, there comes a time in every man’s life and he shouldn’t have had that one.

You want to know why frustrated Met fans call for Rojas’s summary execution after just about every other Met loss and sometimes after oddly-managed Met wins? Tuesday night was gilt-edged evidence for the prosecution.

This morning they’re thanking God and His servant Stengel that Tuesday night wasn’t a postseason game. They may even thank both if the Mets finally don’t make the dance at all. How sad is that?

Could that someone be Max the Knife?

Max Scherzer

Scherzer’s stellar pitching has made possible the Dodgers leaving the Bauer embarrassment behind.

On Saturday, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke called Trevor Bauer the biggest embarrassment in Dodgers history. Two days later, Plaschke’s fellow Times columnist Bill Shaikin called Max Scherzer cover for the Dodgers’ Bauer disaster.

Bauer’s 2021 season is over. With his legal status remaining in limbo, baseball’s government and the Major League Baseball Players Association decided it was the better part of valor that Bauer should remain on paid administrative leave through the end of the season.

“He will surely never pitch for the Dodgers again,” Plaschke wrote Saturday. “He may never pitch for anybody again. But the damage his brief presence wrought upon an organization built on strong community and smart baseball has been indelible.”

“[H]istory,” Shaikin wrote Monday, “seldom offers a silver lining more glistening than this: If Bauer is on the Dodgers’ roster, Max Scherzer is not.”

Signing Bauer last winter indicated only that the Dodgers were willing to gamble on a misogynist alone. Even vetting Bauer completely, the team couldn’t have foreseen his exposure as having crossed lines separating mere kink from downright abuse, making mere misogyny resemble virtuousness.

Dealing for Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner from the Nationals at the trade deadline may yet make the Dodgers’ Bauer embarrassment the footnote to a footnote in their long and storied-enough history. Especially if the deal turns out to have made the postseason and the pennant possible.

It’s not that Turner has been useless, far from it. He’s had more than a few moments since he swapped Nationals for Dodgers fatigues. (For one thing, he’s now the only baseball player known to have almost moonwalked his way back up and out of a safe slide across the plate.) But he can’t begin to measure up to Scherzer’s impact.

Nobody can.

Nobody else could conceivably start eight straight games for a team and post a 0.88 ERA, a 1.26 fielding-independent pitching rate, five measly walks, and 72 strikeouts over those eight starts. Except maybe an uninjured Jacob deGrom, who actually did spend starts from 25 May through 1 July posting a 1.20 ERA, a 0.92 FIP, four measly walks, and 71 strikeouts.

But deGrom is more than a fair few seasons younger than Scherzer. DeGrom has slightly more than half of Scherzer’s lifetime 3,003 strikeouts. It would be foolhardy at best to predict that a day lurks in the future when deGrom will nail his 3,000th strikeout on the same day he pitches an immaculate inning and takes a perfect game into the eighth inning.

That’s what Max the Knife did Sunday. The Dodger Stadium crowd didn’t exactly pack the house, but it made noise enough that only a corpse on the Klingon home world couldn’t have heard it when Scherzer threw down and in on a full count and eluded Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer’s bat for the milestone swishout.

He pitches for a team that has an easier time keeping greatness on the mound from going unrewarded. Unlike deGrom, who pitches like a Hall of Famer for a team that knows how to snatch the proverbial defeat from the jaws of victory as often as not, the Dodgers have won every one of Scherzer’s eight starts since his arrival.

“None of Bauer’s teams,” Shaikin notes, “have won eight consecutive games in which he started.” That’s any eight consecutive starts, never mind the first eight he’s made with any of the four teams for whom he’s pitched.

(For those curious, this year the Mets did manage to win eight straight deGrom starts—but deGrom got win credit in only five of those games. On the other hand, one of his injury issues put a big time space between the first two of those starts. DeGrom’s ERA over those starts was four points lower than Scherzer’s over his first eight Dodger starts, and deGrom’s FIP was eleven points lower.)

Plaschke feared free agent-to-be Scherzer would be a rental only. But when Shaikin noted another future Hall of Famer, Clayton Kershaw, sitting a mere 347 strikeouts away from the Magic 3,000, he quoted Max the Knife about that: “Hopefully, I’m here, and able to watch his 3,000th as well.”

Could that have been a not-so-subtle hint that Scherzer would like nothing more than to stay in Dodger silks for the rest of his career? Could that have been a not-so-subtle suggestion that the Dodgers are thinking about the same thing as they begin to imagine a post-Bauer world for which Bauer bears the brunt of the blame?

Don’t even think about it: Merely because a judge denied a restraining order against Bauer regarding one of his victims, Bauer isn’t off the hook. Restraining order petitions address  feared future acts. They don’t deny or acquit known previous acts.

“[T]he central truth of this entire affair — the stuff that Major League Baseball will look to regarding Bauer’s behavior, irrespective of whether [criminal] charges are brought — points pretty clearly to Bauer doing exactly what his accuser said he did,” wrote former NBC Sports baseball analyst Craig Calcaterra last month.

Everything else is secondary.

After 12 hours of testimony, his accuser said, under oath, “I did not consent to bruises all over my body that sent me to the hospital and having that done to me while I was unconscious.” There was zero evidence presented which explained how those bruises appeared in a way that was benign or refuted the idea that the woman was unconscious when Bauer inflicted them. That, in my mind, is all that matters.

Six days before the Dodgers pulled the trigger on the Scherzer trade, it became known widely enough that there wasn’t a Dodger to be found in the clubhouse who really wanted Bauer back among them.

Between that day and the day they landed Scherzer, the Dodgers fell from two to three games out of first in the National League West. They’re back to two and a half out of first with a few hiccups here and there, none of which involved Scherzer. But his one-for-the-books outing Sunday further exposed the upstart Padres (18.5 games out of first) as not ready for National League West prime time just yet.

Both Scherzer and Kershaw face free agency this winter unless the resources-rich Dodgers elect to stay their course with both pitchers. For Kershaw it would be keeping him in the only baseball family he’s known his entire career. For Scherzer it would be making sure he finishes his career with his fourth and final baseball family. Maybe with another World Series ring or two on his finger.

Remember: Enough of the world thought the Nationals made a huge mistake signing Scherzer to a long-term deal. Then Scherzer finished his Nats tenure with a) the most wins above replacement-level pitcher of any marksman during the life of the deal; b) struck more batters out than anyone else in the Show over the life of the deal; and, c) helped the Nats win an unforgettable World Series title.

Somewhere in there, Max the Knife also managed to win two of his three Cy Young Awards. Back-to-back while he was at it. He’s even in this year’s conversation as regards winning his fourth Cy Young Award.

After net results such as those, nobody would necessarily bet on the Dodgers just burning money if they elect to make Kershaw and Scherzer offers they can’t refuse to stay. Even four-year deals keeping them Dodgers for the rest of their baseball lives.

“Wasn’t it true,” Mario Puzo had Don Vito Corleone musing in The Godfather (the novel, not the film), “that sometimes the greatest misfortune brought unforeseen rewards?”

The Dodgers’ rewards are bound to be a lot happier with Scherzer aboard for his final acts than they’d be with even one more episode of the Bauer dope opera.

Max the Knife vs. the Lindor Rock

Max Scherzer

Max the Knife went from immaculate to 3,000 in the same Sunday afternoon game . . .

Who says baseball isn’t good for a little hair raising anymore? If you weren’t paying attention Sunday, you missed some real hair raising in Los Angeles and New York. As a matter of fact, you could feel sorry for Dodger Stadium’s  being upstaged by Citi Field’s.

Even if both hit the history books running.

Max Scherzer took a perfect game into the eighth inning. Along the way he pitched an immaculate inning—the third man ever to do it three times, joining Chris Sale and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax—and bagged his 3,000th career strikeout. Right there it should have been the biggest story in the game.

Immaculate inning? Three thousand strikeouts? Could that someone be Max the Knife?

Those Big Apple pains in the ass had to horn in on Scherzer’s glory. They had to go from a brothers-in-arms 9/11 twentieth-anniversary hair-raiser to a Sunday night soiree full of chirping, whistling, snarking, bombing, and oh, yes, Francisco Lindor doing what nobody else in the 139-year history of the Subway Series had done before.

It wasn’t enough that Scherzer should have struck San Diego’s Eric Hosmer out swinging on down and in and a full count in the fifth to record the milestone strikeout. It wasn’t enough that Hosmer was sandwiched by Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Tommy Pham in the middle of that immaculate second.

It wasn’t even enough that Hosmer should have been the one to bust Scherzer’s perfect bid with a double deep to right field, a little quiet revenge for having been on the wrong side of Max the Knife’s further burrowing into the history books.

No. Those spoilsport Mets and Yankees had to go out and enable Lindor—the off-season signing splash whose first year as a Met has been a battle at the plate while remaining a study at shortstop (where he’s worth five defensive runs saved about the National League average)—to do the damage that mattered in a 7-6 Met win.

Never in the entire history of New York’s major league teams tangling against each other—we’re talking serious World Series tonnage, plus all those decades when the Dodgers and the Giants turned baseball into total warfare against each other, not to mention the Yankees and the Mets in regular-season interleague play—had any single player hit three home runs in a single contest between them until Sunday night.

In other words, Lindor accomplished what not even a small truckload of Hall of Famers ever did in Big Apple uniforms against each other. Not Home Run Baker or Babe Ruth. Not Lou Gehrig or Mel Ott. Not Joe DiMaggio or Jackie Robinson. Not Yogi Berra or Johnny Mize. Not Mike Piazza or Derek Jeter. Not even Willie, Mickey, and the Duke.

All around the Lindor clock, hey, let’s do the Lindor Rock!

Bottom of the second. Lindor batting lefthanded, squaring off on 1-1 against Clark Schmidt, a Yankee excavated from the farm system to make the start in the first place, and hitting a hanging breaking ball for a three-run homer into the bullpens behind right center field, pulling the Mets from a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead.

“If Francisco Lindor’s first year as a Met could include a signature moment,” called ESPN broadcaster Matt Vasgersian as Lindor came down the third base line and crossed the plate, “we just watched it.” If only his crystal ball had undergone a tuneup.

Bottom of the sixth. One out, Yankee reliever Wandy Peralta throwing his first pitch to Lindor batting righthanded. The changeup arriving down and on the lower outside corner got driven high and into the left center field seats. Fattening a 5-4 Met lead by a run.

Francisco Lindor

“I am the Whistler, and I know many things, for I bomb by night . . .”

On the way home down the third base line, Lindor made a gesture simulating a kid sticking two fingers into his mouth to whistle a huge blast—a zap back at the Yankees over suspicions that Saturday night’s Mets starting pitcher, Taijuan Walker, was caught tipping his pitches with the Yankees whistling the tips to their batters during their five-run second.

Maybe the Yankees did it, maybe they didn’t. It’s not as though the Yankees have been immune to suspicions of on-field chicanery in the recent past, even if they’re not yet suspected or affirmed to have been quite as deep-cover as the 2017-18 Astros were shown to be for espionage aforethought.

But Lindor tripped a Yankee trigger when Giancarlo Stanton smashed a game-tying two-out, two-run homer in the top of the seventh. Stanton and Lindor jawed back and forth while Stanton was still running the homer out, though the Yankees and the Mets were both kind enough to let Stanton cross the plate before the benches and bullpens emptied completely for a little, shall we say, conversation over the matter.

“The last couple nights, we’ve just been loud over there,” said Yankee manager Aaron Boone. “Not doing anything.”

“I’m not accusing them,” Lindor said post-game Sunday night. “I’m not saying they’re doing it 100 percent because I don’t know 100 percent, but it definitely felt that way. And I took that personal. I took that personal and I wanted to put runs on the board to help my team win.”

For his part, Stanton postgame thought Lindor was actually ticked off at Peralta for whistling—not to steal signs but to try putting a little more life into what Stanton suggested had been a sluggish Yankee bench during a sluggish Yankee spell. That, Stanton said, is what he was trying to convey to the Mets’ shortstop en route the plate.

“If you’ve got a problem to Wandy, give it to Wandy,” the left fielder said. “Don’t be talking to multiple people, bringing everybody into it. Running around the bases, that was my thought process. Obviously, I didn’t get all that out running around.”

If anyone had a real complaint about Peralta’s whistling, it was probably Yankee right fielder Joey Gallo. “It’s definitely not for pitch-tipping or anything like that,” Gallo insisted, before complaining  good naturedly. “It’s been hurting my ear, honestly. It’s unbelievable how loud he can whistle.”

Bottom of the eighth, one out, Lindor back batting lefthanded against another Yankee reliever, Chad Green. This time, he hit a 2-0 meatball practically down the chute even higher over the right field fence than his first flog of the night traveled.

It wasn’t as spiritually delicious as Hall of Famer Piazza’s eighth-inning blast in old Shea Stadium, during the Mets’ first home game after the original 9/11 atrocities’ baseball hiatus, but the Citi Field racket as it traveled out of reach was equal in volume to that twenty-year-old cathartic hysteria.

There’s nothing like a three-thump night to make a high-priced shortstop—who’s spent most of his first such high-priced season struggling at the plate if not with the leather—suddenly feel lovable. “It probably helped them believe in me a little bit more,” Lindor said post-game.

Poor Scherzer. The tenacious righthander hit the history books with a flying fist. So he had to be one-upped by those New York yo-yos. Not even Mookie Betts speaking postgame could neutralise things. “He was destined for it,” the Mookie Monster told reporters. “All the work he puts in, everything he does. It kind of sounds weird, but I expect nothing less from him.”

Echoes of Hall of Famer Don Drysdale once saying of his rotation mate and buddy Koufax, “I expect Sandy to pitch a no-hitter every time he takes the mound.”

The bad news in New York was that Met fans have come to expect a discomfiting balance between virtuosity and disaster from reliever Edwin Diaz. And Diaz delivered just what they expected in the ninth Sunday night.

He wasn’t the only bullpen culprit in the hair raising, not after Jeurys Familia threw Gleyber Torres a two-run homer in the sixth, and not after Brad Hand handed Stanton that jaw-inspiring two-run shot in the seventh. But Diaz was the bull most over the edge, almost.

A leadoff strikeout followed by a base hit. A followup walk followed by a swinging strikeout. Then, he had a little help from catcher James McCann, letting a 1-1 pitch to Stanton escape, enabling pinch-runner Tyler Wade and Yankee first baseman Anthony Rizzo to third and second.

Lucky for Diaz and the Mets that Stanton got under the 2-2 fastball and popped it up. To the left side. Where, of all people, Lindor awaited to haul down the game’s final out. Some dared call that one poetic justice.