The bullet bites the Dodgers

Corey Seager

Seager couldn’t stop the unstoppable smash hit in the bottom of the ninth.

It didn’t cost anyone a World Series they were one strike away from winning. It didn’t cost anyone a pennant. It was only Game Two of the National League Championship Series, and one team has a 2-0 disadvantage that actually can be overcome and overthrown in a best-of-seven set.

Corey Seager’s inability to stop Eddie Rosario’s two-out smash up the pipe in the bottom of the ninth Sunday night, and thus stop Dansby Swanson from scoring the winning Braves run, stands to be a candidate for the worst individual moment in Dodger postseason history. Unless the Dodgers can perform that overthrow.

How many years have you mused how readily one player can go from hero to goat in the same game—if not the same inning? But how often does it happen in a game—and a set so far—in which his team seems to see men in scoring position as allergies above opportunities?

Twice on Sunday, Seager played the hero, once in the top of the first and once in the bottom of the ninth. Within minutes of the second play, he stood shriven and the Dodgers stood halfway toward the end of their season, and all he’d been asked to do in that harrowing moment, in effect, was to try what amounted to catching a speeding bullet with his teeth.

Seager opened the Dodger scoring in the top of the first with Mookie Betts aboard on a jam-shot pop single to shallow left. He turned on Braves starter Ian Anderson’s first service and hammered it over the right center field wall. In two blinks he put Anderson and the Braves into a 2-0 hole.

In a four-all tie in the bottom of the ninth, Seager hustled from defensive shift positioning well behind second base to take Dodger reliever Brusdar Graterol’s slighly offline throw to second to erase pinch-runner Cristian Pache on Swanson’s would-have-been sacrifice bunt. That’s the way to make the Braves waste a precious offensive out even worse.

After Braves center field double-switch insertion Guillermo Heredia grounded out to push Swanson to second, Dodger manager Dave Roberts lifted Graterol for Kenley Jansen, with Rosario checking in at the plate having a 3-for-4 night and counting.

A ground out pushed Swanson to second, Graterol was lifted for Kenley Jansen with Rosario coming up, having gone 3-for-4 thus far—and having scored the Braves’ third run when third base coach Ron Washington waved him home daringly on an eighth-inning Ozzie Albies base hit, diving behind the plate just eluding Dodger catcher Will Smith’s tag.

All Jansen did now was throw Rosario one nice little cutter heading for the inside part of the plate. All Rosario did was fire it right back up the pipe at a reported 105.4 miles per hour. Seager had little choice behind second but to turn down to his right to try backhanding the bullet. It blasted off his downstretched glove and into shallow center field.

Swanson shot home with the winner in a 5-4 Braves win, the second walk-off-winning run in two NLCS games for these Braves, who must be feeling as though they’re living charmed lives so far. The bullet bit Seager and the Dodgers. With 32 teeth.

But if you’re going to pound the goat horns into Seager’s forehead, or even demand Dodger manager Dave Roberts’ immediate execution over one or two of his pitching decisions, you really should consider this:

How come the team that led this year’s National League in runs scored, and had a team .806 OPS with runners in scoring position, couldn’t go better than 2-for-18 with four walks and a hit batsman in 24 chances to get runs home so far in this set?

How come the two hits each came from Chris Taylor, with one of them a Game Two bloop misplayed by Heredia into a tiebreaking two-run double in the top of the seventh? Where have all the other Dodger bats been when they manage to get somebody on second base or beyond?

Go ahead and second-guess Roberts’ pitching moves all day long if you must. Argue as you must how foolish it was to send Max Scherzer out to start when Scherzer by his own postgame admission had a dead arm going in.

When Roberts lifted Scherzer for Alex Vesia in the fifth, this time there was no objection from the gassed marksman. Max the Knife was probably lucky that the worst damage in four and a third innings was former Dodger Joc Pederson—now a Brave, by way of the Cubs’ trade deadline fire sale—hitting a two-run homer well above the Chop Shop behind Truist Park’s right field seats in the third.

Argue as you must, too, that Roberts’ real weakness handling his pitching staff isn’t so much playing it by any analytical script as it is relying far too heavily on the more highly-revered members of his pitching staff, instead of paying close attention to which arms have which hot hands regardless of star power.

This time, it was using his 20 game-winning starter Julio Urias in an oft-familiar role—moving him between postseason starting and relieving, a role he’s normally thrived in performing—only to see it backfire spectacularly enough in the Braves’ two-run, re-tying eighth.

Argue as you must that Roberts could well have Graterol for the seventh—after Joe Kelly got rid of the Braves in order in the sixth—and saved Blake Treinen and Jansen to start clean eighth and ninth innings. Or, that he could have given Graterol the night off and used  Treinen and Jansen over the final three innings to divide the last nine outs between them. Or, that he could have brought lefthanded Justin Bruihl in to handle the lefthanded Braves due to swing in the eighth.

Roberts said postgame that in weighing every option the lefthanded Urias was the best arm he had to bring in for the eighth. There’s nothing but positive when you reach for what you think is the best available arm when there’s a two-run lead to protect. That’s what a smart manager does. But even Urias is only human, not Superman.

Sometimes, even in the worst possible moment, the other guys are just a little bit better. The goat hunters too often like to forget that when they’re prowling for a head onto which to plant the horns.

Roberts is no stranger to calculated gambling. If the Urias gambit worked, he’d have resembled a Stengelian genius. When he said postgame that the postseason is the time of year when “careful” isn’t an option, he was dead right. “Careful” wasn’t exactly an option for the Braves, either, when Washington waved Rosario home and left room for Game One walkoff conqueror Austin Riley to send an RBI double to the back of center field.

Since the Braves managed to stand the Urias gambit onto its own head with a little risk taking of their own, it may force Roberts into even deeper such gambling, since Urias was originally his projected Game Four starter but now may be compromised going into that game if he’s still on the slate.

But offer succor to Seager, not sulfuric acid. The Braves didn’t walk Game Two off because Seager did what he wasn’t supposed to do or what he knew better than to do. He’d done his level best to send his team toward a win as the game opened. He’d done his level best to keep them alive and toward extra innings.

Now, Seager did his level best again to keep his team alive but failed to stop the unstoppable bullet. The Dodgers have nine Game Two goats to hold to account. Those batters who couldn’t and didn’t hit with six more Dodgers in scoring position after Seager’s homer and before Taylor’s double.

There’s a reason a smash hit is called a smash hit. Often as not, it’s just too unstoppable.

The Dodgers give the Giants a Game Two Belli-ache

Cody Bellinger

Cody Bellinger, hitting the Game Two-breaking two-run double in the sixth inning Saturday night.

If Cody Bellinger is finally, reasonably healing from everything that turned his regular season to waste, the timing couldn’t be better. For his Dodgers, and for himself.

First, he set up Chris Taylor’s wild card game-winning two run homer with a sharp theft of second base last Tuesday. Now, in division series Game Two, Bellinger started putting the game out of the Giants’ reach Saturday night with a sixth-inning, two-run double off Giants reliever Dominic Leone.

On a night that the Dodgers’ bats re-awakened following their half-asleep Game One loss in San Francisco—even starting pitcher Julio Urias managed to join the fun—Bellinger wasn’t exactly the most prolific Dodger at the plate, just the most important one.

With Trea Turner on second after a leadoff double lined down the third base line, and Will Smith walking his way aboard for first and second, Giants manager Gabe Kapler lifted his starting pitcher Kevin Gausman for Leone. Leone walked Taylor in part because plate umpire Angel Hernandez—what a surprise—called what should have been strike three ball three, on a pitch that hit the upper outside corner squarely enough.

Bellinger checked in at the plate next. With the kind of struggling regular season he had, he wasn’t about to look the proverbial gift horse in the proverbial mouth. He drove Leone’s first service to the back of center field, bounding off the wall, sending Turner and Smith home with Taylor having to stop at third.

Leone barely had time to regroup from that blow when A.J. Pollock lined his next pitch into left to send Taylor and Bellinger home while he bellyflopped his way into second safely for the double. Leone got the final two outs getting Urias’s pinch hitter Gavin Lux to ground out to second and Mookie Betts to fly out to center, but the four-run sixth held up toward the 9-2 Dodger win.

Pollock and Taylor collaborated on the Dodgers’ first run of the game in the top of the second, Taylor lining a one-out double into the gap in left center and Pollock going from 2-0 to a free pass to enable Gausman to get rid of Urias the easy way. Except that Urias refused to cooperate.

Something of an outlier among pitchers at the plate (he actually hit .203 in the regular season, 93 points above pitchers at the plate overall), Urias lined one to right to send Taylor home with the first Dodger run. Betts then lined a base hit to left to send Pollock home for the 2-0 Dodger lead.

Except for Donovan Solano’s one-out sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second, and Brandon Crawford singling home late-game entry Lamonte Wade, Jr. in the bottom of the sixth, the Giants had no answer for the Dodgers’ revival at the plate Saturday night.

The Dodgers weren’t about to provide the Giants answers, either. As if to slam a pair of exclamation points down on the salient point, Smith hit reliever Zack Littell’s first pitch of the top of the eighth into a voluptuous parabola that landed a few rows into the left field seats, and pinch-hitter Matt Beaty (for Dodger reliever Corey Knebel) plus Corey Seager added a pair of RBI singles before the inning expired.

But even though Bellinger struck out three times otherwise, that game-breaking two-run double in the sixth trained most eyes back upon him. He looked at last like the 2019 National League Most Valuable Player again, not like the guy who had everyone not looking deep thinking he spent this season sinking into oblivion with a ten-ton weight strapped to his ankle.

All season long, Bellinger tried to remake his swing to use the entire field while his body refused to cooperate. He’d had shoulder surgery last off-season, after injuring the shoulder first fielding several grounders and then celebrating his home run in Game Seven of last year’s National League Championship Series. Then, he missed the first eight weeks of this season after a leg fracture when he was spiked on a play at first base.

He also suffered a hamstring injury and, in September, a non-displacing rib fracture when he collided with Lux on a play in the outfield.

If you don’t think batterings like that can drain a fellow at the plate, you probably haven’t tried playing professional baseball. Bellinger’s tenacity in trying to play through or around those injuries is as admirable as the reality of his futility at the plate before healing completely from those injuries is deplorable.

Especially when the shoulder continued putting limits on his swing, opposing pitchers saw and exploited the resultant inability to catch up to rising fastballs or reach diver-down breaking balls, and Bellinger’s confidence eroded little by little as the season went forward.

Whether manager Dave Roberts was worse continuing to run him up there than Bellinger was in being so stubborn, despite the shoulder not recovering completely from that off-season surgery, it told you how deep this year’s Dodgers really are that they won 106 regular season games despite Bellinger’s injury-driven deflation.

Now, Bellinger could stand on second base in the sixth with a look akin to the many he had after big hits in his MVP season. Now, Roberts could laugh his fool head off trying to explain it postgame: “Mentally, I don’t see how it could hurt him. There can only be upside. He’s wanted to use the big part of the field, and for him to get rewarded was huge. I think there was a big weight lifted off his shoulders.”

If pun was intended, it wasn’t exactly the smartest or cleverest. It was difficult not to think that Bellinger should have had more extended recovery from that shoulder surgery, taken a somewhat extended spring training, and returned in May at fullest possible strength.

It was between sorrowful and infuriating to see Bellinger playing through the short recovery and subsequent injuries and listening to the witless writing him off as just another slumper who suddenly didn’t know what he was doing.

He’s not quite out of the wilderness yet. But watching him drive that Game Two-breaking double gave you almost as much hope as it seems to have given him. “I feel 100 percent, you know?” he said postgame. “I don’t know how my body is, but I feel really good.”

What he did Saturday night was enough to leave the Giants nursing a serious Belli-ache and the Dodgers feeling even better about moving the series tied at one to Dodger Stadium for Game Three.

Even if they might wonder privately which Max Scherzer will turn up on the mound. Will that someone be Max the Knife? Will he be the tired veteran who surrendered ten runs in his final two regular-season starts, before fighting on fumes to pitch one-run, four-and-a-third innings’ baseball in the wild card game? The answer comes Monday.

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.

Max the Knife comes up aces

Max Scherzer

Dodger fans asked Max the Knife for something he’d never had in his career before Wednesday night—a curtain call.

Nothing could spoil Max Scherzer’s mound premiere in a Dodger uniform Wednesday night. And it wasn’t for lack of trying by the Astros. Not even for lack of trying by one particularly brain dead Dodger fan down the right field line.

The Astros made a grand enough effort after Scherzer left the game following seven stellar innings and ten strikeouts marred only by a solo home run and an RBI single. They had to settle for losing by two runs instead of five.

The Dodger bullpen made a grand enough effort, too, letting the Astros pry three runs out of them including a two-run homer in the top of the ninth off Kenley Jansen before he finally struck out the side to end the 7-5 Dodger win without any further self-immolation.

The aforesaid meathead in the stands did his best to contribute to a potential overthrow, too. With two out in the top of the eighth, struggling Cody Bellinger playing right field, and Carlos Correa at the plate against his old buddy Joe Kelly, Correa on 1-0 lifted a long foul down the line. Bellinger had a running bead on the ball and a certain side-retiring catch ready and waiting.

Until he didn’t.

Bellinger jumped just enough to make the catch. Except that the idiot in a Mookie Betts jersey with a glove on his left meathook reached up to snatch the ball right before it would have landed in Bellinger’s glove. Some of the fans surrounding the jerk congratulated him. Others surrounding him looked as though they wanted to brain him.

Technically, the jerk didn’t quite cross the line into obvious fan interference. But you’d think even the most profit-hungering souvenir hunter would be smart enough to back down when the right fielder has a chance to end an inning with a catch just above the edge of the fence padding.

Instead of side retired, Correa got extra life against Kelly. He swung and missed for strike two immediately after the stolen foul out, fouled another off, then turned on a hanging slider and sent it almost halfway up the left field bleachers for the third Astro run of the night.

Dodger Stadium security removed the miscreant after Correa finished his trip around the bases. A few of the fans in the same region let the security people know just how happy they weren’t over that removal. They’d better be grateful that this wasn’t another World Series game.

They’d also better be grateful that not even jerks being jerks could spoil Scherzer’s first outing as a Dodger.

The packed, roaring house just gave Scherzer even more incentive to go forth and do what he tends to do best, refusing to let even Michael Brantley’s one-out bomb in the top of the first, or Kyle Tucker singling Yordan Alvarez home with two outs in the fourth keep him from his appointed ten punchouts thanks to an effective curve ball setting up the fastest fastballs he’s thrown all season.

“You live for this,” Max the Knife said after the game. “You live to pitch in front of 50,000 people going nuts.”

They went nuts enough that still-ailing Clayton Kershaw, his fellow three-time Cy Young Award winner, nudged Scherzer back out of the dugout after his outing ended to take what he’d never taken in his entire career to that point—a curtain call.

“With everything on the line, the way the crowd was, that was a high-adrenaline start, coming here,” the righthander continued. “Try not to do too much. Just pitch my game, go out there and do what I can do, and just try to navigate the lineup. The offense tonight went off.”

“Went off” was a polite way to put it. The Astros barely had time to let their opening 1-0 advantage sink in when Betts turned on Jake Odorizzi’s slider and sent it over the center field fence to lead the bottom of the first off. A walk, a swinging strikeout, and a Jose Altuve throwing error later, Will Smith turned on Odorizzi’s fastball and drove it into the right field bleachers.

One inning and one out after that, Betts struck again, hitting a 3-1 heater into the left field bleachers. An inning, two outs, and a walk after that, A.J. Pollock hit one over the left field fence and Odorizzi must have thought by then that he could have pulled an automatic pistol out of his pocket, fired toward the plate, and still watched the bullet travel out of the yard off the end of a Dodger bat.

The Astro righthander blamed poor mechanics since the All-Star break, but with a 4.95 ERA and a 5.06 fielding-independent pitching rate on the season you could almost wonder whether the Astros threw him up as a sacrificial lamb Wednesday night.

“My fastball has been flat,” Odorizzi said after the game. He could have said “flat-tened” and it wouldn’t have made a difference. “There are a lot of things I am working on between outings, but then I am reverting back to bad form.”

The bad news for the Dodgers was that such reversion threatened to ruin Jansen and them in the top of the ninth. He surrendered a leadoff single to Aledmys Diaz before Tucker sent a hanging cutter into the right field bullpen. Then Jansen re-horsed to strike Robel Garcia, Jason Castro, and pinch-hitter Meyers out swinging.

Nothing, though, could diminish Scherzer’s impact. Especially with the Dodgers in straits desperate enough in the starting pitching department. Walker Buehler and Julio Arias have had to hold fort while Kershaw’s forarm inflammation hasn’t subsided yet, and it’s already kept the lefthander out since early July.

Tony Gonsolin’s shoulder is inflamed likewise. Still-ailing Kansas City import Danny Duffy isn’t likely to be ready before September. And the execrable Trevor Bauer remains on administrative leave while MLB and the Pasadena police continue investigating sexual assault accusations against him.

The Dodgers hogged the headlines on trade deadline day when they swept in and snatched Scherzer (plus star infielder Trea Turner) from the Nationals and right out from under their downstate rival Padres’s noses. Now Scherzer had to live up to the headlines—just the way he forced himself to live up to the biggest noise of 2019 and pitch on nothing but fumes and will to keep the World Series-winning Nats in Game Seven just long enough to give them a chance to win it in the first place.

Manager Dave Roberts almost wasn’t worried. Almost. Buehler and Urias must have felt as though thousand-pound iron blocks were removed from both their shoulders after Scherzer’s evening’s work finished.

“From the moment I got to the ballpark, we got to the ballpark, you could just see that elevation, anticipation from our guys,” Roberts said post-game. “The buzz in the crowd from the first pitch, him taking the mound, donning the [Dodgers’ home uniform] for the first time—he delivered. He delivered. Just the intensity. It was so much fun. And it was just really cool to see the crowd smell it and want him to finish that seventh inning.”

“I mean, it’s Max Scherzer,” the Mookie Monster said post-game. “I think that kind of speaks for itself.” (In case you were curious, Betts had one hit—a double—in six lifetime plate appearances against Scherzer before they became teammates.)

For Scherzer, coming off the only mid-season trade of his distinguished career, and to the team he’d helped beat in the 2019 National League Division Series, the hardest part’s over. For now. “I’m a Dodger,” Max the Knife said. “It feels a lot more normal when you just go out there and pitch and win. Winning kind of cures everything.”

It might even get him the final home address of his career. Might.

If he keeps pitching the way he did Wednesday night, even at age 37, and nobody including Scherzer shouldn’t be shocked if the Dodgers decide to make it worth his while and his bank account to keep him in the family. At least until his arm finally decides to resign its commission a couple of years from now. Maybe with a couple of more World Series triumphs to its credit before he’s done.

What took so long?

Trevor Bauer

Trevor Bauer waited as long to go on administrative leave for abuse as  Hector Santiago waited to get grounded ten days for actual/alleged naughty sauce. What’s wrong with that picture? Plenty.

Get caught with legal rosin mixing with your own natural sweat? You baaaaaad boy! No going out to play for you for ten days, Hector Santiago.

Take rough sex too far and leave a woman bruised, undergoing CT scans, and finally filing a restraining order against you this week, under penalty of perjury? You’re still starting in regular rotation, Trevor Bauer . . . on the Fourth of July. In Washington, yet.

At least, you were, until MLB did Friday what it should have done on Wednesday, when the details came forth, and put you on seven days’ administrative leave.

Until then, it looked as though Santiago took heavier immediate consequences for actual or alleged naughty sauce than Bauer did leaving a woman with head and facial trauma, a partial basilar skull fracture, and blood around where she accuses him of trying a back door slider while she was out cold and in no position to allow it.

You can run the entire history of professional baseball and find players disciplined quickly and heavily for behaviour a lot less grave that what Bauer’s accused of having done to the lady. But then you can also still find too many people learning about Babe Ruth’s penchant for partying with gangsters and hookers and thinking it’s still just part of the big lout’s appeal.

Maybe the Dodgers couldn’t discipline Bauer unilaterally at once, as Sports Illustrated‘s Stephanie Apstein noted Thursday afternoon. But there was no law saying manager Dave Roberts couldn’t decide to hand the ball to another pitcher to start in Bauer’s place, especially on the anniversary of a declaration saying we’re entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness isn’t supposed to leave a woman’s head resembling a boxing gym’s speed bag. Not even if she was looking for just a little rough and wild sex.

Unless I’ve been led down one or another primrose path, even a little rough and wild sex isn’t supposed to end in head and face trauma, a partial basilar skull fracture, and blood on the seat God provided the human anatomy. Compared to that, The Thrilla in Manila (Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, the brutal Act III) was a dance contest.

Baseball’s domestic violence policy, Apstein reminded us, includes that baseball’s government can put an accused player on paid administrative leave up to seven days while investigating the accusations. MLB and the Major League Baseball Players Association can extend that period by mutual agreement, she observes.

“Perhaps MLB is waiting until Sunday so as not to start the clock,” she continued. “If they wait, that would keep him out of action until after the All-Star Break. That may make sense legally. It is indefensible morally.”

These people are so consumed with technicalities that they can’t be bothered to do the right thing. “We are not going to start Trevor Bauer on Sunday.” Not “We are going to take away Trevor Bauer’s money.” Not “We are going to suspend him.” Not “We are going to release him.” Not “We are going to throw him in prison.” Just “We are not going to offer this man the privilege of striding out to a mound in front of tens of thousands of people who paid for a nice afternoon.”

Let’s remember the word “privilege.” That’s what playing professional, major league baseball is. It’s not a basic human right. You won’t find any clause in the Supreme Law of the Land declaring you have the absolute right to any particular line of work.

The document over whose anniversary baseball and the nation is about to make a red, white, and blue racket—the like of which probably hasn’t been seen in long enough, after last year’s pan-damn-ic rudely interrupted such things—doesn’t say, “We hold this truth further, that you have the right to your particular chosen job, period, no matter what criminal behaviour you might commit while thus employed.”

Apstein said commissioner Rob Manfred—a man who normally points the way to wisdom by standing athwart it—should have put Bauer on administrative leave immediately. She also said the Dodgers’ administration should have ordered Roberts to hand the Fourth of July ball to anyone but Bauer, instead of Roberts telling reporters he’s still giving Bauer the ball.

While she was at it, she zapped that brass for leaving Roberts out to answer press questions by himself.

“Instead,” Apstein continued, “fans of the Dodgers and of the sport and of civil society have to wait days to learn whether a man accused of breaking a woman’s skull will get to pitch on the Fourth of July in the nation’s capital.”

The Athletic‘s Dodgers reporter Fabian Ardaya tweeted Thursday afternoon that Roberts also said the team’s “direction” was to do nothing “until they get guidance from MLB.” Since when does a team need guidance from baseball’s government to just take the ball from one pitcher and hand it to another?

The Dodgers have their guidance now. It took only two days from The Athletic’s Brittany Ghiroli’s and Katie Strang’s running down the literally gory details in the restraining order filing to get it. It shouldn’t have taken that long.

MLB was still a little too slow on the proverbial uptake. So were the Dodgers. They should have gotten ahead of it and changed Fourth of July pitchers at minimum to open. This is a look about which “ugly” would be an understatement for the team half a game out of first in the National League West.

Why did Manfred and his office wait so long to put Bauer on administrative leave? When former Cubs shortstop Addison Russell was first accused of abuse against his then-wife in 2018, MLB put him on administrative leave at once. When Yankee pitcher Domingo German was accused likewise in 2019, MLB put him on administrative leave likewise.

Both were suspended in due course, but the players’ union approved extensions of the administrative leaves first. What on earth was the hesitation now?

The presumption of innocence? Legally, that’s in a court of law. Morally, you don’t surrender it when you remove a pitcher from duty whose mind is occupied by matters more grave than trying to sneak fastballs or breaking balls past Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto on the Fourth of July.

“Would the union fight a similar extension with Bauer?” another Athletic writer, Ken Rosenthal, asked. Then, he answers at once: “Perhaps, if it believed the league was acting unfairly. The union, after all, exists to defend and assert the rights of the players. But based on the details in the domestic violence restraining order against Bauer, the union also might view a prolonged investigation into his conduct as warranted.”

Somehow, it’s still impossible to believe that a pitcher caught with his sweat mixing to legal rosin and ending up in his glove—which, by the way, MLB turned out not to have inspected—almost faced heavier immediate consequences than a player under legal restraining order over leaving a woman injured, feeling abused, and more than a little afraid.

“[H]ow ridiculous would it look for MLB to dock Santiago and not even buy time with Bauer, whose alleged offense is far more serious?” Rosenthal asked. “What exactly would Manfred’s trepidation be here?”

I’m still a little too trepiditious to ask. A baseball commissioner who’s already threatening to set records for terrible looks took two days to do what he had to do this time. “Terrible” isn’t the word for that look.