David and Goliath face elimination

2019-10-08 TravisDArnaudJoseAltuve

“They played beautiful defense, especially in that play right there.”—Jose Altuve, about the relay that nailed him at the plate above.

Sometimes you can’t afford to respect your elders. As in, when they’re on the mound on short rest, their less-than-well-rested arms and bodies refuse their lawful orders, and it’s still now or never until your American League division series is over.

There probably isn’t a Rays player or fan alive who doesn’t have a world of respect for Justin Verlander. There isn’t any baseball person alive lacking in such respect. Even at 36, the man has skills, the man has brains to burn, the man has no fear, the man has class, and the man has heart.

And when he says he wants the ball no matter how much rest it wouldn’t be on, nobody says no to Verlander. Not his manager. Not his front office. And sure as hell not Astroworld. Saying no to Justin Verlander with his cred is like it once was telling Evel Knievel the Snake River Canyon wasn’t going to be his new best friend.

But when even a Hall of Famer elects to take the mound in a bid to kick his team into the League Championship Series no matter how fully rested he isn’t, no matter how obedient his slider isn’t, there isn’t a Ray or anyone else alive either who’d spot him with his command gone AWOL and refuse to get the drop on him before he finds a reserve tank.

These Rays seem like nice guys. So do these Astros. But do you think the Astros would stay nice guys if they faced even a Hall of Famer with his tank down to its final fume? If you do, I have a freshly purchased Taj Mahal I’d like to sell you at cost.

Powerful teams are fun to watch when they dominate as these Astros have done all year long, and the Astros are fun to watch even on their very occasional off days. But there’s nothing like a band of upstarts that nobody else wanted pushing them to the equivalent brink of elimination as the Rays did Tuesday night.

Their 4-1 win over the Astros was as good as blowing almost anyone else out by three times that margin. That’s how tough the Astros are. And that’s how stubborn the Rays are proving to be.

Even if Gerrit Cole takes the mound Thursday back in Houston, delivers just half of what he threw at the Rays in Game Two, and sends the Astros to an American League Championship Series with the Yankees—you want to talk about E.R. vs. St. Elsewhere?—there isn’t a soul to be found who’d say the Rays didn’t prove they could hang with the big boys after it looked at first as though they’d get hanged.

So the Rays got cute sending Diego Castillo out to open, and Castillo got cute striking out the side in the first. And impressing the hell out of Astros manager A.J. Hinch. “Castillo, thank God he was an opener and not a regular starter,” he said after the game. “Having him out there for four, five, six innings would be devastating for anybody.”

The Rays got even more cute after Verlander opened the bottom of the first with a three-pitch strikeout of Austin Meadows. Tommy Pham was cute enough to work Verlander to a 2-2 count including one swing at a pitch missing the low and away corner, then send a slightly hanging changeup into the left center field seats.

A walk (to Ji-Hin Choi) and a single (to Avisail Garcia) later Travis d’Arnaud, whom the Mets thought expendable very early in the regular season, expended a base hit into left center field to send Choi home, and Joey Wendle expended a double down the right field line to send Garcia home. Verlander got rid of Kevin Kiermaier with a swinging strikeout to prevent further disaster but the Astros were in a 3-0 hole.

He’d survive first and second in the second and a man on third in the third, but he couldn’t stop Willy Adames (it almost rhymes with “Adonis”) from hitting the third pitch of the fourth over the center field fence. A strikeout, a line out, and a walk later, Hinch had to admit Verlander’d been had on a night when his spirit was willing but his arm and body demanded the rest of the night off.

For a second night running, the Astros got Rayed.

“A good approach for those guys in the first, and then honestly, I need those infield singles to be caught,” said Verlander after the game, referring to balls the Rays hit just past the Astros’ infielders. “When you don’t have it, you need the balls that are put in play to go your way, and they didn’t. Obviously, not the way you would script it. You know, it sucks.”

Thus the Astros joining up to the Rays bullpenning, which began with two out in the second and Rays manager Kevin Cash lifting Castillo for Ryan Yarborough. Whom he’d lift for Nick Anderson with Jose Altuve on second after maybe the single most important play of the game. Maybe even of the Rays’s season.

Yordan Alvarez, the Astros’ uber-rookie, sent a double to the rear of the yard. Kiermaier picked it off the wall hop and fired a perfect strike in to Adames out from short on the grass behind second, and Adames fired just as perfect a strike home to d’Arnaud at the plate spinning to tag the road-running Altuve about a split second before the Astros’ second baseman’s hand touched the plate.

And pop went the Astros’ best rally while the Rays were at it.

“That,” said Kiermaier of Adames’s strike home, “was probably the most incredible relay throw from an infielder I’ve ever seen. That was such a huge moment for us, huge momentum shift, and it just doesn’t get any better than that.”

Not even Choi turning Michael Brantley’s line drive into a single-handed double play in the sixth, bagging George Springer returning to the pillow while he was at it. That was child’s play compared to The Kiermaier-Adames Show.

And Kiermaier gets no argument from Altuve himself. “We’ve been playing aggressive all year long. I don’t see why we shouldn’t do it right now. But sometimes you have to give credit to the other team,” the Astros’ impish second baseman said after the game. “They played beautiful defense, especially in that play right there.”

“You have to tip your cap to those guys,” said Astros catcher Robinson Chirinos, whose just-passing-by solo home run off Chris Poche in the top of the eighth provided the lone Astros scoring. “The relay was perfect. It was textbook. They needed a perfect relay and they did it to throw Jose out at home plate. That was a big difference in the game tonight.”

When Jose Altuve himself gives you a five-star review, you’re being more than—what’s that overcooked word deployed about the Rays?—resilient.

Face it. On one postseason day when the Rays and the Astros had the nation’s baseball stage to themselves, the un-glamorous, un-beautiful, un-sexy, un-bankable Rays stole the show all for themselves. The Beatles themselves couldn’t have upstaged these No-Rays Tuesday night.

They were supposed to be about as deadly as babies in strollers at the plate. They were supposed to be a pitching staff full of anonymous relief pitchers with the occasional token starter and even Cy Young Award winner who couldn’t possibly keep getting away with all that bullpenning jazz.

Never mind that said Cy Young winner, Blake Snell, had Altuve on third and MVP candidate Alex Bregman on first with one out in the ninth when he went in from the pen Tuesday night, then struck Alvarez out swinging before coaxing Yuli Gurriel into the game-ending ground out right up the pipe, where Wendle just happened to be waiting to throw him out.

They have a manager named Cash for a team whose overseers seem allergic to spending any. They play their home games in a toxic waste dump that looks like a warped pressure cooker on the outside and an abandoned landfill on the inside, playing baseball on the last of the sliding-boxed zippered-billiards table surfaces.

And they are resilient, these No-Rays, even if the word “resilient” may turn into something less than a compliment before too long. “We’re good. Everybody uses the word resilient and that’s great but we’re also very good,” Cash told a reporter. “You can use that word resilient over and over and in a way it’s kind of knocking us. The truth is this is a very good team.”

The truth is also that the Astros are finding that out profoundly. The Rays may have finished with the American League’s fifth-best regular season record and the Show’s seventh best, but somehow, some way, the Rays have out-scored the Astros 17-13 in the division series so far. Somehow, some way, they’ve out-homered the Astros six to four. Somehow, some way, they have a better on-base percentage, a better slugging percentage, an OPS slightly over a hundred points higher, and more walks.

The Rays may not survive Game Five, after all, but they won’t leave the Astros thinking it wasn’t a battle royal even if Cole does go second-verse-same-as-the-first. Even if Cole will pitch on regular rest as opposed to Verlander asking to go on three days for the first time in his life and Zack Greinke getting nuked on eleven days’ rest.

“We have a great pitching staff, we play great defence and our bats are starting to come together,” said Pham, with all due modesty.

“People before this series started talking about David and Goliath,” Kiermaier. “I understand they are really good on paper and we might be the team that is not as appealing, but don’t ever count us out. We got guys feeling really good about themselves and we are clicking as a team all year. That is a dangerous recipe for success.”

Sounds a lot like what they once said about the Astros, doesn’t it?

After shoving the similar but slightly less obscure Athletics to one side in the wild card game to get their chance with the Astros—who have all the reputation and intimidation you could ask for in pushing 107 regular season winning chips to the middle of the division series table—the No-Rays and the Astros are equals for standing on the brink of elimination in Game Five.

Even with the Astros holding what they hope is the home field advantage trump. Not that the Astros are worried, necessarily, even if almost to a man they can’t wait to escape the Trop. (The Rays may not necessarily love the joint, either, but their 2019 season record shows ambivalence at best: they were the same on the road as they were at home, 48-33.)

The Astros opened the regular season against the Rays in the Trop and beat them once before losing three straight more. Aside from Games One and Two, they tangled in Minute Maid Park for three in late August. The Astros won the first two of that set; the Rays won the third. It’s not unheard of for the Rays to win in Minute Maid.

“We have done it years ago, when we have the home field. We win at home, then we lost on the road, then we come back home and make it happen,” Altuve said after the game. “So we’ve been here before. There’s no pressure right now.”

Altuve, one of the most intelligent as well as talented players the Astros have ever yielded up, also needs nobody to remind him there was no pressure on the original David, either.

Marberry fields forever

2019-06-17 FirpoMarberry

Firpo Marberry, whose manager Bucky Harris saw the future in part through his eyes and arm in 1924 . . .

The Washington Senators of ancient times, you may know, had a slightly exaggerated image, thanks to a San Francisco writer: “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.” Then, in 1924, they did what people who buy the legend might consider impossible. They won the pennant. And the World Series.

And those Senators, with a stacked six-man starting rotation led by Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, won that Series with what we’d call today—wait for it!—bullpenning.

Remember: these were the Good Old Days of the Grand Old Game. When men were men, pitchers pitched until their arms looked as though they’d self-amputate, and managers wouldn’t even joke about having regular bullpens except as the holding area for the starters who couldn’t cut the mustard in the first place or the washed-up just hanging on a little longer. Right?

But 1924 was also when the Senators’ “Boy Wonder” shortstop/manager, Bucky Harris, basically said he wasn’t going to wait for self-amputation. He couldn’t quite grok why he shouldn’t have good pitchers in his bullpen in the event that, you know, the games at hand required him to reach for a stopper or close enough to one.

If anyone howled over it during the season, they must have quit laughing for awhile after Game Seven of that Series 95 years ago. But only for awhile. “The Senators,” wrote Brian Kenny in Ahead of the Curve: Inside the Baseball Revolution, “had given the rest of the league a template to winning baseball. It responded by ignoring it.” For a long enough while.

Harris’s Game Seven starter Curly Ogden, a righthander, didn’t get hurt or shellacked right out of the chute. His arm wasn’t even thinking about a self-amputation. He struck out Hall of Famer Freddie Lindstrom and walked Hall of Famer Frankie Frisch to open. No big deal. Pitchers can and often do shake such walks off and escape unscathed otherwise.

Except that Ogden knew going in that he wouldn’t get the chance. Ogden and Harris knew bloody well that Harris sent him out to deke New York Giants Hall of Fame manager John McGraw into loading his lineup with lefthanded hitters, giving Harris the raison d’etre to reach for lefthander George Mogridge that soon. You think today’s managers are too obsessed with “matchups” to just let the boys pitch? The 1924 World Series-winning manager thought about the matchups in the earliest hour of the biggest game in his and his team’s life to that point.

And until the top of the sixth, Harris looked like a genius. Thanks to Harris’s own fourth-inning home run and Mogridge’s stout pitching, the Senators led 1-0. Then Mogridge ran into trouble in the top of the sixth, walking Hall of Famer Ross Youngs and feeding Hall of Famer High Pockets Kelly a base hit with room enough for Youngs to take third. Exit Mogridge, enter Firpo Marberry, who in 1924 blew the prevailing traditional observations about relief pitching right out of the Potomac.

The 1924 American League batted a collective .290; Marberry kept hitters to a .263 collective hitting average whether he was a starter or a reliever. The 1924 American League delivered a cumulative 4.23 ERA and 4.14 fielding-independent pitching rate; Marberry had a cumulative 3.09 ERA and 3.76 FIP. His starting ERA: 3.66; his relief ERA: 2.82. (Complete games were falling around the Show: 48 percent of pitching starts went the distance; a decade earlier, it was 55 percent; a decade later, it would be 43 percent.)

He threw a live fastball but relied on contact and his defense, and he knew what he was doing on the mound. He was probably the Old Nats’ not-so-secret weapon that season.

Before Game Seven, Marberry worked in relief in Game Two (retroactive save), started Game Three (charged with the loss despite surrendering only one earned run in three innings), and threw the final two innings in Game Four. (Retroactive save.) Now he was in Game Seven with a World Series on the line and a 1-0 lead to work with.

It cost Marberry a run to get the first out: pinch hitter Irish Meusel flied out to right deep enough to let Youngs tag and score the first Giants run. (The sacrifice fly didn’t become a rule until 1954.) But then, after Hall of Famer Hack Wilson singled Kelly to third, Marberry was betrayed by his defenders: first baseman Joe Judge fumbled Travis Jackson’s hard grounder, and Ossie Bluege—spelling Harris at shortstop—let a hard shot by Hank Gowdy get through his legs. The errors allowed two unearned Giants runs home.

Marberry retired the next two hitters to keep the damage at 3-1, Giants. The bad news is that his fielders’ mistakes hung a retroactive blown save on Marberry, making you wish there could be some way to award the equivalent of a blown save to errant defenders. (Mets reliever Jeurys Familia would learn the hard way about defenders blowing your saves for you in the 2015 World Series.)

But Marberry pitched a scoreless seventh and eighth, the former inning disrupted only by a walk and the latter only by another infield error. In the bottom of the eighth Harris hit the to-be-fabled bad-hop high bouncer that eluded Lindstrom at third base to tie the game at three and cause President Calvin Coolidge attending the game to drop his cigar.

“What happened next,” wrote Judge’s grandson, Mark Gauvreau Judge, in Damn Senators, “would have been rejected by Hollywood producers as too shamelessly contrived.” (It’s possible that the younger Judge never saw the film version of The Natural.) Harris brought in Johnson for the top of the ninth.

“I saw men crying unashamed, and men and women praying aloud,” Johnson’s wife, Hazel, would remember. Baseball men might have been crying, too, including Johnson’s fellow Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson in the press box: “Poor old Walter, it’s a shame to send him in.” Johnson had looked tired earlier in the Series and some thought he still might be.

But except for second and third in the ninth (Frisch tripled with one out) and a man on second in the eleventh, Johnson pitched as well as he could be expected to go at that point in his career, walking three but striking out five and scattering three hits over his four innings’ work.

It took a staggering stretch play by Judge at first to pick off a wide throw from third to end the ninth inning threat. Judge opened the bottom with a base hit and took third on Bluege’s infield hit, but Judge was stranded on an inning-ending double play. It took Gowdy catching his foot in his discarded mask in the bottom of the twelfth, on Muddy Ruel’s foul pop, to keep Ruel alive long enough to double down the left field line. Then Johnson himself beat out an infield hit, before Earl McNeely whacked a high hopper up the third base line.

Once again, the ball sailed over Lindstrom’s head. This time it enabled Ruel, normally a slow runner, to score the Series-winning run, thanks also in part to Meusel not charging toward the infield when he expected Lindstrom to field the ball.

If you believe Baseball as I Have Known It author Frederick Lieb, no less than commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis asked aloud whether the ’24 Series was “the zenith of baseball.” Of course it wasn’t. Landis wasn’t that visionary.  Even if he didn’t see it, someone else showed baseball the future, even if baseball would still have to be  dragged kicking and screaming toward it.

“Even with the Senators’ success,” Kenny wrote, “credit went to the Big Train and the rest of the starting staff. No other club felt compelled to jump on board and create their own Firpo Marberry.” Not, perhaps, until Harris himself and then Casey Stengel (with Joe Page) in 1947 and 1949 with the Yankees; and, Eddie Sawyer (with Jim Konstanty) in 1950 with the Phillies.

With his season-long deployments of Marberry, his clever deke of McGraw, Marberry holding up despite the Game Seven lead-losing fielding miscues, and Johnson coming out of the pen delivering whatever he had left, Bucky Harris looked into the future. And what he saw gave his Senators their best chance to win.

It didn’t make him want to run home to Mommy. Or to seek absolution in the places where old ballplayers thundered about how much better it was in their days. It let his team’s fans crow, “Washington—First in war, first in peace, and first in the American League.”

1924. The year in which Lenin died; Rhapsody in Blue premiered; Coolidge became America’s first radio president; Hitler got five years for the Munich beer hall putsch; Mercedes-Benz and Sarah Vaughan were born; and Kafka, Puccini, and Woodrow Wilson died. And, in which bullpenning pulled the corks on the only World Series-winning champagne Washington has yet tasted.

For openers, MadBum may be lucky

2019-02-10 MadisonBumgarner

The idea of an opener makes him a very MadBum . . .

Of everything you can say about Madison Bumgarner, dumb isn’t one of them. (Even accounting for the dirt bike accident that took him out for long enough in 2017.) He’s not dumb on the mound, he’s not dumb otherwise.

But then, after new Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi pondered the possibility of some pitchers as openers, at the Giants’ FanFest Saturday, Bumgarner texted manager Bruce Bochy to say, “If you use an opener in my game I’m walking right out of the ballpark,” a text Bochy disclosed to NBC Sports’s Alex Pavlvic.

Time was when a show of defiance such as Bumgarner’s would have gotten him dispatched post haste, on the first rail the Giants could find for him, and never mind that Bochy would probably sooner be tempted to insert himself into the game as a pinch hitter than even think about either using Bumgarner as an opener or bringing him in after an opener’s first and only inning. And if you think I’m writing through my chapeau, you don’t remember Ted Simmons.

Simmons was the Cardinals’ number one catcher in the 1970s and early 1980s, before the Cardinals became winners again and during a long strange drought of their own, a drought Simmons had little enough to do with when it came to the front office’s doings or undoings but enough to do with on the field.

He was a terrific hitter in St. Louis and went to six All-Star teams as a Cardinal. He also came close to being what Dodgers pitcher Andy Messersmith did become, the man who might have forced the end of the reserve era. Simmons refused to sign for 1972 unless he got $30,000 for the season, slightly over twice his 1971 salary. Then-Cardinals GM Bing Devine refused to go past $20,000, thinking Simmons was asking too much, too soon. And he started playing the season without signing, the first time that had ever happened in the majors.

He went on a tear, too; by mid-season, his batting average was .340. And it had the unlikely effect of shifting sympathy away from the Cardinals, especially when Simmons was named to his first All-Star team. The morning of the All-Star Game, Devine called him at his hotel inviting him to the GM’s room to talk. This time, Devine offered him the $30,000 he sought for that season and $75,000 for 1973.

Simmons’s jaw dropped. He called his wife and told her about the two-year deal, with more money than even he imagined coming so swiftly, and elected to sign. And he’d inadvertently showed a rupture in the armour of the Lords of Baseball; they’d rather give a second-year catcher $105,000 over two years than risk any reserve clause test, which they feared Simmons might think about, kid though he was, the longer he played unsigned.

So Simmons wouldn’t be the man to break the reserve clause. But as the seasons went on, his hitting kept him in the number one Cardinals catching job and his personal popularity in St. Louis became such that nobody except opposing teams saw his wounding flaw as a catcher: he had one of the weaker throwing arms in the game. The 3.65 ERA for the pitchers who threw to him speaks well enough of Simmons handling a pitching staff, but Simmons finished his career with enemy baserunners averaging thirty stolen bases a season against him; he had 130 lifetime errors and 62 percent of them were throwing errors.

Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog, unfortunately for Simmons, saw the whole picture when he took over as the Cardinals’ manager in 1980. In You’re Missin’ a Great Game, the White Rat wrote:

Ted hit the ball like a sonofagun but when I watched him play, I didn’t see a motor that drove the Cardinals’ boat. He was more like a leak in their hull. Ted Simmons, God bless him, was a fine person who played hard and cared about winning . . . Unfortunately for the Cardinals organisation, that [poor arm strength] was a bigger disaster than anybody around me seemed to realise . . . [I]t’s just as important to stop the other guy from scoring a run as it is to get one home yourself. And your catcher is your most important guy in shutting chances down . . .

Because Ted threw so poorly to second, every team in the world knew they could swipe that base in the late innings. They knew that if they were behind they’d eventually get their . . . shots to score . . . I doubt five fans could have told you about this factor. Announcers never brought it up. It wouldn’t even show up in the [newspaper] box scores. But every manager worth his spikes was clued in. You’d be amazed—amazed—how many games that cost the Cardinals . . . By the standards everybody still uses today, [Simmons] was a star. But again: Everybody doesn’t know baseball. Too many fans, media, and even baseball people get sidetracked by factors that just don’t bear on the big picture. In the Simmons era, the Cards had never finished first.

Herzog first thought about moving Simmons to a position where his weak throwing arm wouldn’t hurt the Cardinals, and Simmons had actually been a better defensive fielder/thrower whenever he played first base, which was often enough to that point. (He’d played 195 games at first as a Cardinal.) The problem was when Herzog or someone made the suggestion. First, Simmons liked the idea—until he didn’t, thinking that first base incumbent Keith Hernandez might be hurt if converted to a left fielder, and asked for a trade.

Wearing both the manager’s and the general manager’s hats, and having also signed free agent catcher Darrell Porter to a five year deal, Herzog had to lose one or the other. Simmons’s arm issues and change in attitude, measured against Porter’s defensive superiority (Darrell’s strong throwing arm, good positioning, and quickness behind the plate shut down the leakage overnight, Herzog would write in due course), made the decision simple.

Herzog was at the beginning of a remake/remodel that would ultimately send 31 Cardinals out and bring in enough to make them World Series winners in 1982 and National League pennant winners in 1985 and 1987. Dealing Simmons, Pete Vukovich, and future Hall of Fame reliever Rollie Fingers (Herzog had just bagged the reliever he really wanted, future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter) to the Brewers, and the deal helped set the Cardinals and the Brewers up as 1982 World Series opponents.

But he was roasted over trading the still-popular Simmons. “I didn’t want to make it,” the White Rat told The Sporting News. “I was forced to trade him . . . I couldn’t have both him and Porter as catchers. I didn’t have to trade him, but it would have led to a bad situation if he wasn’t happy . . . We’ve improved our defense. We’ve improved our team speed.”  And, in due course, also in You’re Missin’ a Great Game, he’d write of Simmons, “If the National League had had the designated hitter, the man would have gone to his coffin as a Cardinal.”

Herzog might well have kept Simmons if Simmons had accepted the idea of moving to first base, perhaps knowing Hernandez would have found adjusting to an outfield position simple enough. (Hernandez’s feud with Herzog wouldn’t happen until 1983, when Herzog shipped him to the Mets—jump starting their remodeling into a mid-1980s powerhouse.) But when Simmons took a stance that indicated himself instead of team first, Herzog didn’t flinch.

And the Giants shouldn’t.

I get Bumgarner’s alarm over the opener concept. My own take on it is that the opener concept can work—if you need a stopgap when a member of your starting rotation is down with an injury (as Bumgarner has been for parts of the past two seasons) and you don’t have another option to bring you through six or seven innings without throwing your rotation more than slightly out of whack. In that situation why not try a bullpen game?*

At best you win a game, depending on whether your hitters are better than the other guys’ pitchers on the day. At worst, you may lose a game but you don’t have to reshuffle your rotation just yet. And while I certainly get that any manager wants nothing more than to get the best of his pitchers without exhausting them into uselessness when you really need them the most (like down the stretch, or in the postseason), I don’t know that I want the opener to become more than the periodic stopgap I enunciated above.

Bumgarner could and should have found a better or at least less defiant way to express his distaste for the opener concept. He might have said, simply, that it isn’t as healthy for the game, not to mention such established or future starting pitchers as himself, as its supporters think, and those who think he’s too alarmist might have said so and initiated a vigorous but healthy debate. And since when is baseball allergic to vigorous and healthy debate?

But if the Giants decide not to find the nearest available rail on which to run Bumgarner out of town for the text he did send his manager, MadBum should thank God in whichever form the lefthander prays to Him that he’s built enough good will to get away with it.

And, for the fact that this isn’t 1980, and . . . well, try to imagine how Whitey Herzog—who’d have run through a hailstorm of artillery for his players otherwise**—would have answered a text like that.  “Bumgarner to the Mets for three live bodies and a box of balls . . . ” would not have been an unrealistic if slightly surprising headline.

* The bullpenning concept isn’t as recent or radical as you think. The St. Louis Browns actually tried it, first and at its possible greatest extreme, for the final game of a dismal 1949 season. (And weren’t most Browns seasons dismal, anyway?)

For the final game, against the White Sox in St. Louis, Browns starting pitcher Ned Garver pitched the first. Then a different Browns pitcher—including their entire starting rotation otherwise—pitched an inning each: following Garver, it was Joe Ostrowski, Cliff Fannin, Tom Ferrick, Karl Drews, Bill Kennedy, Al Papai, Red Embree, and Dick Starr. The Browns’ pitching that day surrendered four runs only one of which was earned. Kennedy was tagged with the loss after surrendering three in the sixth. The White Sox won, 4-3.

And Garver eventually revealed it was the brainchild of the Browns’ players; considering they’d already lost 100 games, they probably felt they had nothing to lose by trying something out of the left field bullpen.

Not to worry, Garver didn’t have to wait long before making his own kind of baseball history: after the 1951 season, during which he was a 20-game winner for the last-place Browns, Garver would be part of the most unheard-of Most Valuable Player Award vote in the game’s history to that point: he, Hall of Fame Yankee catcher Yogi Berra, and Yankee pitcher Allie Reynolds tied three ways for first-place MVP votes. (Berra won the award by way of earning more votes down the ballot than Garver and Reynolds, the first of Yogi’s three MVPs.)

** Anyone who says a team just can’t remake/remodel itself without downright tanking ought to take a very close look at how Whitey Herzog remade/remodeled the Cardinals into a World Series champion in just one sixteen-month period between 1980 and 1982.