Put a meal and a stewardess on that flip

You’re not seeing things. That’s Willson Contreras’s bat in flight after the Cubs’ DH sent a three-run homer about that high en route the right field bleachers Friday night.

If you’re taking tallies to determine the bat flip of the year, Chicago Cubs designated hitter Willson Contreras should be among your top finalists. His Friday night flip in the ballpark formerly known as Comiskey Park, in the top of the third, was an absolute work of art. Enough to make Tim Anderson, Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper, and Tom Lawless resemble nursery school finger painters.

If you’re taking concurrent tallies to determine the most brain-damaged delayed over-reaction to Dali-esque flips, Chicago White Sox pitcher Jimmy Cordero should hold a place among the finalists likewise. He threw a pair of high inside pitches to Contreras and the second caught Contreras flush enough in the back, just off the C that begins the spelling of Contreras’s surname on his uniform back.

Flipped his bat high in the air? Contreras’s flip off the three-run homer he smashed on White Sox starter Dylan Cease (and Desist)’s dollar was the only flip yet where you were tempted to say what you used to holler watching a titanic home run fly out: “Put a meal and a stewardess on that one!”

If you’re going to be Fun Police enough to want retribution for a bat flip that looked as though it took off from O’Hare International and not Contreras’s hands, the time to go for it was Contreras’s next plate appearance in the top of the fifth. Cease walked Contreras on ball one up and a little in, ball two up and away, ball three inside middle, and ball four down and away.

There was no way Cease wanted to feed Contreras anything resembling the fastball that arrived just off the middle of the plate and flew the other way into the right field bleachers two innings earlier.

There was also no way Cease was trying to throw one through Contreras’s assorted anatomy, even if you could make a case that ball one up and in might have been a subtle nastygram reminding Contreras it’s not nice to channel your inner Michelangelo when you’ve already hit a ball through the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel ceiling. Might.

Maybe Cease got it when Contreras defended himself after the game. “I’m not going to change anything,” he told reporters. “I play hard for my team. I always want to do the best for my team. But if they don’t like me, that’s fine. I don’t play for other teams to like me, anyways. And if I have to do it again, I will do it again.”

But there was every way the White Sox—clinchers of a postseason berth at least, hopefuls toward snatching the American League Central title, even in this pandemic-truncated season of surreal—were feeling just a little over-punished on the night.

You tend to feel that way when Yu Darvish and company are shutting you out, Darvish not quite so nail driving as he’s been most of this season—during which he’s redeemed himself to the tenth power and into the Cy Young Award conversation—but effective enough to keep you to three hits and one walk and only two runners getting as far as second base under his command.

You feel even more that way, after Contreras’s bomb flip put the Cubs up 4-0 and Javier Baez’s leadoff launch over the left center field wall made it 5-0 in the top of the fourth, after Victor Caratini wrestled your relief option Gio Gonzalez to a seventh-pitch sinker that didn’t have enough weight to pull it quite to the bottom, and Caratini sunk it into the same bleachers Contreras reached three innings earlier. Not to mention Kyle Schwarber’s second-inning blast, making for the Cubs a four-bomb evening.

“The dog ate his homework,” pleaded White Sox skipper Rick Renteria. “Detention!” replied the umps.

When Contreras got drilled, the Cubs got riled. They hollered mightily from their dugout, enough to get the umpires into a confab that resulted in Cordero, White Sox manager Rick Renteria, and pitching coach Don Cooper the rest of the night off for bad behaviour.

Renteria tried the dog-ate-my-homework excuse after the game. A second-grade child had a better chance of making it stick. “The ball got away from him,” he insisted of Cordero’s cone job. “We couldn’t convince [the umpire] of that . . . There was no warning. They just gathered and ejected him.” As if a second straight up-and-in pitch was inadmissible evidence.

Cordero tried the same excuse. “It was just a bad pitch, a bad pitch to him,” he said after the game. “The ball sunk a lot, and that happened.” Sorry. Attempted sinkers that rise enough to get a man in the back don’t sunk a lot. Detention for you.

Understand that Cubs manager David Ross is just old school enough that it wasn’t programmed into his own playing software to deliver as Contreras did after hitting a hefty home run. But the man whose first major league home run came off an ex-Cubs first baseman named Mark Grace in Arizona late in a blowout, and whose last major league home run put the Cubs up by three in an eventual World Series-winning Game Seven, wouldn’t throw his man under the proverbial bus for his exuberance.

“It wasn’t to disrespect the other group,” Ross told reporters after the Cubs finished what they started, a 10-0 shut-and-blowout. “It was because we’ve been struggling offensively and he brought some swagger. He brought some edge. I loved every second of it. I don’t think he deserved to get hit at all.”

Why, Grandpa Rossy even had the pleasant audacity of comparing Contreras’s orbital flip to the one Anderson delivered a year ago April. When Anderson ripped Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller’s canteloupe over the fence and made of his bat a helicopter rotor while he was at it, got drilled in the rump roast by Keller his next time up, and objected vociferously. Drawing his teammates out of the dugout, getting both Keller and Anderson ejected by Country Joe West—who may or may not have remembered Anderson zapping him over an unwarranted ejection the previous season.

“All the hype is on the guy on the other side when he bat-flipped, right?” said Ross. “I thought Tim Anderson’s bat flip last year where he flipped it and looked in his dugout, that’s what you want. That’s what Willson did.”

Making the White Sox resemble hypocritical flip-floppers is also what Willson did. Their Andersons can flip until the flock flies home, but the opposing flock better not even think about it. The Fun Police are now reduced to the dog eating their homework. The dog looks better than the White Sox.

Was your cutout there? Bully!

Lucas Giolito, the big bully.

When Lucas Giolito’s Tuesday night no-hitter is remembered twenty years from now, and the coronavirus world tour has long been a not-so-pleasant memory, bank on one thing. Ten times the capacity of Guaranteed Rate Field will solemnly swear that their cardboard cutouts were at the game.

Much remarked for coming from a high school baseball team where his pitching teammates included Max Fried and Jack Flaherty, the Chicago White Sox righthander nailed thirteen strikeouts, walked a measly one, and threw 20 first-pitch strikes out of 28 batters faced.

Yes, it was the first no-hitter of the pandemic-truncated season other wise known as The Inner Sanctum of the Outer Limits of The Twilight Zone. And, it still counts as a bona-fide no-hitter now and for all time. But you’ll forgive me, I hope, if I’m not exactly in the mood to blast fireworks over it for ten good reasons.

The ten reasons are the number of Pittsburgh Pirates Giolito faced Tuesday night. They weren’t exactly the Big Red Machine, the Swingin’ A’s, the Pittsburgh Lumber Company, or this year’s Dodgers (who have yet to be nicknamed) Giolito had to face for the nineteenth no-hitter in White Sox pitching history.

They may not have even been the 1962 Mets, and these Pirates wouldn’t exactly go over big at the Hungry I or the Improv. Those Mets had Who the Hell’s on First, What the Hell’s on Second, You Don’t Want to Know at Third, and You Don’t Even Want To Think About It’s at shortstop. These Pirates barely fielded a cast of The Real Househusbands of Allegheny County. (That’s a joke, son. I think.)

These Pirates could accuse Giolito plausibly of bullying them. On Tuesday night, their lineup included nobody with an on-base percentage higher than .295. They have one .406 slugger (shortstop Erik Gonzalez, batting leadoff) and he has a .271 OBP. The collective OBP of Tuesday night’s Pirates was .234—fifty points lower than the 1965 Mets. (In due course you’ll see why I now mention that edition and not the 1962 comic opera—who actually had a team .329 OBP among non-pitchers.)

Come to think of it, said .406 slugger was the night’s only Pirates baserunner, reaching on a four-pitch walk to open the top of the fourth, right after James McCann’s sacrifice fly provided what proved the final 4-0 score. His reward for that walk was a first-pitch pop out behind the infield, a four-pitch strikeout, and an 0-2 line out to third base.

These Pirates strike fear in the hearts of nobody except their own fans watching on television and the cardboard cutouts that bother showing up this year. And maybe their own manager. What should have been shocking would have been if Giolito didn’t no-hit them.

“2020 has been a very strange year,” Giolito told reporters after the game from behind his mark. “Obviously a lot of weird stuff going on with COVID and the state of the world, so may as well throw this in the mix.” It’s baseball’s first-ever no-hit, no-run, no-fans-in-the-stands game.

“After the seventh, six more outs, looking at who I was facing, became very, very, very possible, and then we were able to get it done,” Giolito said. “Just staying with the same, like, mental routine for every single pitch. One pitch at a time. Full focus, full execution, straight through the target.”

It couldn’t have hurt that these Pirate targets were big enough that Dr. Anthony Fauci could have no-hit them if he’d thrown from halfway between the pitching rubber and the front of the plate.

For the longest time I thought the no-hitter Cincinnati Reds pitcher Jim Maloney threw at the Chicago Cubs one fine afternoon in Wrigley Field in 1965 was the single most ridiculous no-no I’d ever see or know. And that was a little more than half a month before Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax made those Cubs prove that practise makes perfect.

Until shoulder issues kicked into overdrive for him, Maloney might have been a genuinely great pitcher—but on 19 August 1965, Maloney did everything in his power to give the Cubs a break (those Cubs’ OBP, non-pitchers: .318)—and his Reds did everything in their power to get Cubs pitcher Larry Jackson on and off the hook.

Maloney’s good news: He struck out twelve in ten innings. His bad news: He walked ten. Jackson scattered nine Reds hits but a) only one of the nine came with a baserunner aboard (Vada Pinson, in the top of the ninth); and, b) the only one that mattered was Leo Cardenas hitting one into the left field bleachers with one out in the top of the tenth.

Then Maloney opened the bottom by walking Doug Clemens before getting rid of two Hall of Famers, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks, on a fly out to left and an Area Code 6-4-3. At least that time Maloney nailed the extra-inning no-no. Two months earlier, he lost one to the Mets when Johnny Lewis opened the top of the eleventh with a shot over the center field wall, and Mets reliever Larry Bernearth held fort in the bottom for the 1-0 Mets win.

Giolito is a pitcher who went from nothing special (5.68 fielding-independent pitching in his first three major league seasons) to a very good pitcher (3.29 FIP since last season opened) with outsize potential if he stays healthy. Unlike Maloney against the ’65 Cubs, Giolito wasn’t his own worst enemy Tuesday night, and he faced an aggregation who made those Cubs and the same season’s Mets resemble Murderer’s Row.

During the second inning, the power in Guaranteed Rate Field went out for a moment, a very brief moment. The power of the Pirates was already out to stay.