One night in the San Diego zoo

Will Smith

Will Smith had no idea in the moment that the game-tying homer he hit in the eighth Wednesday night would lead to hoisting Manfredball and enough of the old school by their own petards.

There it was. An extra-inning game that went sixteen innings and exposed both the worst possible side of Rob Manfred’s would-be new-school tinkerings and the worst possible side of the old school’s ongoing romance with insisting the worst bats in the lineup hold a place in the order.

What do you call a game in which each team got a free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning and, for five full innings straight, none of those cookies got eaten? That’s right: ten cookies on second to open ten half-innings in San Diego on Wednesday night, and not a one of them came home.

Zombieball? Manfredball? Your Sham of Shows? Monty Python and the Holy Hell? The Smothered Brothers Comedy Hours? A ballpark named for a pet store chain as the world’s largest zoo arena—with the animals holding the keys?

Until the Dodgers’ A.J. Pollock hit a leadoff two-run homer (that sounds bizarre to say, right, but that’s the Zombie Runner Era for you) in the top of the sixteenth, the longest extra-inning game since Manfred imposed the free cookie on second to open each extra half-inning was thirteen innings.

Pollock’s blast pretty much finished a 5-3 Dodger win in which Padres manager Jayce Tingler outsmarted himself with lineup maneuverings that brought his pitchers into batting behind Fernando Tatis, Jr., Manny Machado, and Jake Cronenworth with his bench emptied out previously.

It compelled Dodger manager Dave Roberts to do exactly what the now-retired Thomas Boswell pointed to as one of his prime reasons for finally deciding the designated hitter needed to be universal and permanently so:

It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

Roberts forced Tingler’s hand twice—in the thirteenth, when his empty bench forced him to send pitcher Ryan Weathers out to the plate after intentional walks to Machado and Cronenworth to load the pads (Victor Caratini opened as the cookie on second); and, in the fifteenth, when Tingler had no choice but to let reliever Daniel Camarena bat after Cronenworth was handed another free pass.

Weathers at least made contact: a bouncer back to the mound that ended in an inning-ending force out at the plate. Camarena, a relief pitcher in his first Show turn who somehow managed to pick up a base hit in two previous unlikely plate appearances, looked at a full-count third strike.

“I liked the pitcher-versus-pitcher matchup,” said Roberts, after the Dodgers finally ended the sixteen-inning, 5-3 Dodger win. Show me a manager who wouldn’t love a pitcher-versus-pitcher matchup, knowing how often it won’t end in game-breaking hits, walk-off wins, or even absurd transient pleasures, and I’ll show you a manager in search of a job.

As of Friday morning the pitchers in 2021 posted a .109/.148/.140 slash line and a .288 OPS. The only “strategy” involved Wednesday night—remember, the Old Fart Contingency insists that keeping pitchers in the batting order keeps “strategy” in the game—was the opposing manager maneuvering his opponent into sending pitchers to the plate for all-but-automatic outs.

Wasn’t the game fun otherwise? Sure it was. Sure it was a kick watching Walker Buehler and Blake Snell duel like James Bond vs. the Green Hornet. Sure it was a kick watching Tatis guarantee a sixteenth inning when he smashed a one-out two-run homer in the bottom of an inning in which the Dodgers broke the elongated one-all tie with back-to-back RBI singles.

So how much fun was it, really, to watch the Dodgers hand out eight intentional walks during the game . . . all of them from the eleventh through the fifteenth? I didn’t think so, either.

Trivia, courtesy of the irrepressible Hall of Fame writer Jayson Stark: The Orioles—who stupefied everyone else by following their nineteen-game losing streak-ending 10-6 win over the Angels Wednesday night by bludgeoning the Angels 13-1 Thursday night—have issued eight intentional walks while facing 5,168 batters in the last full calendar year. Whatever else is wrong with the Orioles, handing out comps isn’t one of them.

On the other hand, how much real fun other than a belly laugh that you might not weep was it to notice that Cronenworth reached base six times in the extra innings without once having been in the batter’s box?

Bottom of the eleventh: intentional walk. (Remember: the pitcher doesn’t have to throw four wide ones to do it anymore.) Bottom of the twelfth: he’s the cookie on second. Bottom of the thirteenth: another free pass. Bottom of the fourteenth: he’s the cookie again. Bottom of the fifteenth: another free pass. Bottom of the sixteenth: he’s the cookie yet again.

By the way, Tatis and Pollock became the first players to hit multi-run homers in the fifteenth inning or later since David Ortiz and Mark Teixiera did it in 2015. On the other hand, Pollock’s was the first by a Dodger batter since Hi Myers—in 1919.

Now, on to the further absurdity of crediting one guy for everybody else’s work, also known as the pitching win. You’d better sit down, kids: The Dodgers used ten pitchers in the marathon. Nine of them surrendered no earned runs. The guy who surrendered two runs, one earned, Corey Knebel, got credit for the “win.”

“So has that ever happened?” asked Stark. “A game in which 10 pitchers or more show up on the mound for any team, at least nine of them allow no earned runs and the 10th (the only one to get scored on) vultures the win?” Then, he answered:

Since I’m only a glutton for so much punishment, I merely checked games before September — but did go all the way back to 1901.

And how many other games did I find that fit this description? If you guessed none, you win!

Knebel served the game re-tying meatball Tatis sent over the right field fence in the bottom of the fifteenth and gets the “win” when he should really be giving Pollock half the win for hitting the two-run leadoff blast in the top of the sixteenth.

The other half-win should have gone to Shane Greene, who took his 8.84 ERA into the bottom of the inning and—with Cronenworth taking his third turn as the inning-opening cookie on second—got two swinging strikeouts before a grounder to short finally ended the marathon. Greene did 67 percent of the work in the bottom of the sixteenth . . . and got a “save” for a clean inning in which he had to pitch his way out of an artifically, arbitrarily-created jam. Some save.

If Jacob deGrom earning back-to-back Cy Young Awards despite not being a “winner” wasn’t enough to convince you how fatuous the pitching “win” really is for telling you how well a guy really pitches (Jacob deGrom’s issue wasn’t that he “didn’t know how to win.” It was that he didn’t know how not to be on the New York MetsAnthony Castrovince), maybe something like that will finally start giving you the a-ha!

Maybe something like Wednesday’s game will start giving you the a-ha! too about the futility and stupidity of letting pitchers continue to hold places in the batting order, if the aforementioned slash line or their historical futility at the plate doesn’t. (I’ve pointed it out before, I’ll say it again: since the final decade of the Dead Ball Era, the pitchers have hit a collective .166.)

Maybe the absurdity of Jake Cronenworth reaching base six times from the eleventh through the sixteenth without once truly checking in at the plate will give more people the a-ha! about Manfred’s beyond-insane free cookie on second to start the extra half innings. I’d suggest it might give Manfred himself the same a-ha! too. But I don’t believe in that many miracles.

2 thoughts on “One night in the San Diego zoo

  1. I’m beginning to think baseball fans will never be happy. What’s the happy medium? because at this point in time I have no goddamn clue. Also, it’s sort of laughable that people watching MLB scream about “strategy” when Japanese baseball is far superior in this respect. American baseball has been a slug-fest for 40 years (maybe longer, but that’s another tedious debate) and it’s ridiculous to think otherwise.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gary—I’m beginning to think Joe and Jane Fan don’t pay as close attention as they’d like everyone to think. (Or, that what they really want is a return to the dead ball era.) Oh, all right, I confess: I’ve thought Joe and Jane Fan were brain damaged for a very long time.

      Consider the Orioles destroying the Angels Thursday night: fourteen runs in the game, all but five of them scored on singles and doubles.

      Consider the Pirates beating the Cardinals 11-7, also on Thursday: Eighteen runs in the game total. Eight scoring on homers; ten on two singles, a double, and a ground out.

      Consider the Diamondbacks beating the Phillies, 8-7, yet again on Thursday: Fifteen runs in the game. Six scored on homers; nine on five singles, a double, and a ground out.

      Entering Friday, there were 17,238 runs scored this season and 16,416 official RBIs. (Meaning 822 runs scored on bases-loaded walks, ground outs, double plays, etc.) Of those 16,416 RBIs, 28 percent involved home runs—leaving 72 percent coming home on singles, doubles, triples, sacrifice flies.

      There were also 30,863 hits entering Friday, and—hold onto your seats!—only fifteen percent are home runs. Twenty percent are doubles; two percent are triples; leaving 63 percent of all hits singles.

      Joe and Jane Fan want it all ways. They hate strikeouts . . . unless it’s their pitchers ringing them up. (Makes you wonder whether they’d prefer batters hitting into double plays.) They profess exhaustion with home runs . . . unless it’s their teams hitting them out. They’re also witless to understand that the number one issue with analytics/sabermetrics is not with the wealth of deep information offered up but the manner in which that information is used/misused/abused.

      It’s hell if you do and hell if you don’t.

      Liked by 2 people

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