Starters-as-relievers postseason? As new as Lysol.

Walter Johnson

Hall of Famer Walter Johnson—a starter used in relief to help win the 1924 World Series.

Baseball’s capacity to amuse is almost as profound as the game’s ability to inspire. It’s amusing to see the gnashing of teeth and the wringing of hands over this postseason’s phalanx of starting pitchers who had to yield to their bullpens for assorted reasons. You’d almost think someone was trying to legislate the pitching star out of baseball.

If someone is, they simply weren’t watching the games or hearing the crowds. They also have a rather troublesome ignorance of baseball history. And maybe, too, a continuing bias against relief pitching.

Sure, we love to see and remember the greatest starters of our times. I grew up watching the Hall of Fame like of Jim Bunning, Steve Carlton, Don Drysdale, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Catfish Hunter, Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver.

But I also remember seeing and feeling the thrills and kicks when the bullpen like of Dick Radatz came into a game. Hell, Radatz was practically the only reason to bother with the 1963-65 Red Sox. He was big, beefy, intimidating-looking (not for nothing was his nickname The Monster), and looked as though he was about to eat the opposing hitters for lunch.

Until his shoulder deserted him (overwork, plus [speculated] taking someone’s advice trying to add a slider to his howitzer fastballs) some time in 1965, Radatz was as big a pitching star as any starting virtuoso. Even if he did come in for the ninth of the 1964 All-Star Game and surrender a walkoff bomb to then-Phillies star Johnny Callison.

There were more relief aces than you might remember in Radatz’s time. Ted Abernathy, for a few seasons, anyway. Lindy McDaniel. Elroy Face. Eddie Fisher. Stu Miller. Ron Perranoski. Pedro Ramos, at least for the final weeks of that staggering Yankee stretch drive to snatch the 1964 American League pennant. Phil (The Vulture) Regan. Larry Sherry (the 1959 World Series MVP). Hoyt Wilhelm (the first Hall of Fame relief pitcher). Al Worthington.

You might care to note that, whether you’re paying attention now or paid attention then, four of those relievers had top-five Most Valuable Player finishes: McDaniel (1960) and Radatz (1963) each had a fifth-place finish; Perranoski (1964) and Fisher (1965) each had a fourth-place finish.

Think about that for a moment: In four of those seasons there were MVP voters who thought a quartet of relief pitchers might have been among the most valuable players in baseball. Now, those voters then considered won-lost records; those guys were credited with double-digit wins, and a few of them probably got their wins after blowing leads but hanging in while their teams managed to eke or bang out the wins late.

(Face, of course, was an 18-game “winner” in 1959, still a record for relief pitchers, never mind that he also had nineteen save opportunities—applied retroactively—and blew nine of those. In fact, according to Cooperstown Cred, one of the major reasons Chicago Tribune scribe Jerome Holtzman came up with the dubious “save” stat was his feeling that Face’s won-lost record actually over-stated his real value.)

But still.

Were you really watching when AJ Minter and Tyler Matzek clamped the vault door shut on the Dodgers in Game Six of the National League Championship Series? The noise in Truist Park when that pair threw four scoreless relief innings, helping the Braves punch their tickets to the World Series, could have drowned a heavy metal concert out.

Especially when Matzek walked right into a small fire his immediate predecessor Luke Jackson left behind. With eight pitches, Jackson surrendered a leadoff double, a walk, and an RBI double setting up second and third. With eight more pitches, Matzek struck out the side—including future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols and fellow former MVP Mookie Betts.

When Matzek got the Mookie Monster swinging to finish that escape act—if you can go from crossing the high wire to breaking your way out of the chains in the tank in one inning, Matzek did—the Truist crowd went from nuclear to Crab Nebula.

There’s been no better moment of absolute pressure relief pitching than that in this postseason. So far. Who knows what the World Series will bring, above and beyond Yordan and Eddie Tonight? Whatever it brings, come on, baby, don’t fear the reliever. (Unless you have to hit against him.) Or, for that matter, the starter-as-reliever.

You say the starter-as-reliever is just another nefarious creation of today that’s ruining pitchers and pitching? It didn’t exactly come up roses for Max Scherzer this time, of course. But it hasn’t crossed a lot of minds, either, that maybe a 37-year-old man who threw a heavier workload in September than he had any month all season might have been bound for a dead arm by the time he had to say no to starting NLCS Game Six.

But it wasn’t exactly a new thing, either. Not. even. close.

Go back to the 1924 World Series, Game Seven, for openers. When Washington Senators manager Bucky Harris not only delivered what we call a bullpen game to win that Series but secured the Old Nats’ shot at it by bringing (and the crowd went wild, too) Hall of Fame starting pitcher Walter Johnson in from the bullpen for what proved four innings’ shutout relief.

When Casey Stengel managed the Yankees, his five straight pennants and World Series rings out of the chute came in no small measure because he was audacious enough to use a starter in relief. You may have heard of him: Allie Reynolds.

The Ol’ Perfesser used Reynolds as both a starter and reliever in several of those World Series. (Including in the ninth of Game Four, 1950 Series, when Stengel brought him in to get the final out of the Yankee sweep—after rookie Ford allowed the potential tying run to reach.)

Allie Reynolds

Allie Reynolds—Casey Stengel loved using his terrific starter in relief when it mattered most. Especially in a few World Series.

Reynolds also spent 1951 throwing two no-hitters and making six relief appearances on the regular season. Pay careful attention now: Reynolds, his Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra, and St. Louis Browns starter Ned Garver—credited with 20 wins for the hapless Brownies—tied for the most first-place votes in that year’s American League Most Valuable Player Award voting. (Yogi won the award by way of his superiority in the secondary votes.)

And, even with the stat applied retroactively, Allie Reynolds—who started 71 percent of his games and relieved in 29 percent of them—is tied for the third-most relief saves in World Series history, behind The Mariano and Hall of Famer Rollie Fingers.

Starters as relievers? Unprecedented and the End of the Grand Old Game As We Knew It? Please.

Smokey Joe Wood, 1912 World Series Game Eight. (Two scoreless after coming in in the eight; surrendered the tying run, bailed out by “Snodgrass’s Muff” in the tenth inning.) Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander, Game Seven 1926 Series. (The fabled bases-loaded, inning-ending strikeout of Hall of Famer Tony Lazzeri.)

Hank Borowy, 1945 Series. (Four scoreless relief innings, Game Six.) Harry Brecheen, 1946 Series. (Credited with his third win of the set in Game Seven—in relief.) Bob Turley. (Won the ’58 Series MVP winning one start and making two relief appearances including the Game Seven-winning seven-inning gig.)

Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, Game Five 1979 Series. (Four innings shutout relief in a Pirate must-win.) Four Royals starters in relief in the 1985 World Series. Sid Fernandez, Game Seven, 1986 World Series. (Four strikeouts in two and a third’s shutdown relief enabling room for a Mets comeback win.)

Orel Hershiser, 1988 NLCS. (A save in Game Four.) Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Game Seven 2001 Series. (An inning and a third shutout relief preceding Luis Gonzalez walking it off for the winning Diamondbacks.)

Madison Bumgarner

Starter-as-reliever: MadBum, Game Seven, 2014 World Series.

Madison Bumgarner, Game Seven 2014 Series. (Five scoreless in relief for the Giants’ third Series rings in five years.) Charlie Morton and Clayton Kershaw, Game Seven 2017 Series.

Nathan Eovaldi, 2018 Series. (The Game Three extras, six virtuoso before Max Muncy ended it with an eighteenth-inning home run.) Chris Sale, 2018 Series. (The final three Game Five outs for the Red Sox triumph.) Stephen Strasburg, 2019 NL wild card game. (Three scoreless in relief.) Max the Knife, Game Five, this year’s NLDS.

The only reason any of those ballpark crowds wouldn’t have gone nuts was because the deeds were done by the visiting pitchers. (Game Five, this year’s NLDS between the age-old-rival Dodgers and Giants in San Francisco, a notable exception.)

And if starters-as-relievers looks like a more contemporary phenomenon, it may well be because they’ve played more postseason games as the years went passing by.

Well, it was amusing to see the teeth gnashing and hand wringing over the starters-as-relievers this time around—for a little while. The problem is that it comes from lack of self-informing, willfully or otherwise. It’s not funny anymore to see some stubborn “purist” or “traditionalist”—in the stands, in front of television, or in the press—blow his or her gasket first and do their homework later.

When getting it right means the worst message to kids

Wilmer Flores, Will Smith, Doug Eddings

Wilmer Flores—representing the potential Giants’ winning run—checking his swing Thursday night. On appeal from plate umpire Doug Eddings (far right), the check swing was denied by first base umpire Gabe Morales and thus strike three ended the NLDS and the Giant’s season. Some think such robbery sends the “best” message to kids.

Social media isn’t exactly renowned as the exclusive domain of the learned. But when you see something such as I’m going to quote—I won’t embarrass the source by identifying him, though I know him well enough to know that he ought to know better—you tremble for your country when you remind yourself that God may be just but humans may be willfully ignorant.

The gentleman in question responded to “The Strike Heard ‘Round the World,” my account of NLDS Game Five and the shamefully needless way it ended. With Wilmer Flores’s check swing ruled a strike, erroneously, by first-base umpire Gabe Morales on appeal. With Flores robbed of a chance to persevere against Max Scherzer, despite his weak career papers against Max the Knife.

With the potential tying run on first for the Giants and himself representing the potential winning run, Flores should have had the chance to try before it was game over. He was denied improperly. My correspondent says, essentially, so what? “So what” works as a classic jazz exercise by Miles Davis. Not proper baseball analysis.

What the players do is human, what the broadcasters do is human,” said the gentleman in question, being a former baseball broadcaster himself.

[S]o the umpires do human things, smart or stupid. players and fans have to live with it. we’re sending the worst kind of message to our kids. Kids need to know that rotten calls will be made against them and they can’t plead for a review because there won’t be any.

Oh. So one of championship baseball’s most important jobs is to send the best kind of messages to kids. Got it. Very well, I surrender.

Let’s talk, indeed, about the Worst Kind of Messages We Send Kids when an umpire makes a mistake on what might be the final out of a postseason set’s final game, offers at least a mildly coherent explanation, then allows his crew chief to elaborate when asked further with, “Yeah, no, we, yeah, yeah, he doesn’t want to say.”

It tells me that the adults in the room who won’t stand for it when the kids dissemble upon being caught with their hands in the cookie jar or the liquor cabinet haven’t got that strong a leg to stand upon. I’d clean up betting that that’s what the kids in the room figure out, too.

Let’s talk, indeed, about the Worst Kind of Messages We Send Kids when the adults in the room decide, basically, yeah, we’re being rotten sonsabitches. But tough toenails, kids, that’s the way it is. This isn’t up for debate. We’re the mommies and daddies, that’s why. Because we said so, that’s why.

It tells me the adults in the room have no eyes to see. The kids in the room gather that their parents drink deep of power and parch themselves of prudence. They see might making right regardless of justification, in one or a hundred instances. They see authority with unsound foundation.

Let’s talk, indeed, about the Worst Kind of Messages We Send Kids when we tell them review isn’t an option. It tells me the adults in the room know three things about the country in which their game was born, nurtured, and grown in the first place: jack, diddley, and squat. Baseball’s government may lack in the complete range of reviewable acts, but baseball’s country’s government actually consecrated the right to review.

This nation’s founders consecrated a Bill of Rights that mandates, among other things, the right to petition for a redress of grievances. Such grievances are usually (though not exclusively; reference Congressional committee hearings) presented and argued before—what do you know—a Supreme Court. Never mind for the moment that given Supreme Court panels can seem as judicially tyrannic as umpires who are, after all, baseball’s most immediate arbiters.

But the Supreme Court has also overturned its own rulings frequently enough, unless higher authority—you know, the legislative branch, and the president, and in that order—writes and signs laws accordingly. The Supreme Court blew the Dred Scott decision? (It emanated first in the same city from which Curt Flood fired the Second Shot Heard ‘Round the World.) Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation plus the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments took care of that blown call. That’s just one example.

By the way, federal judges up to and including even Supreme Court justices can be impeached. (Sixteen have been, including Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase.) Baseball’s government hasn’t yet designed or imposed genuine umpire accountability. The better umpires in the game are compromised by their lessers.

Those concerned more with the Best Kind of Messages We Send Kids than with getting things right in championship or championship-aspirant games should ponder something else. Why might it be that ordinary, everyday enterprises impose accountability on their people, from the most obscure warehouse people to the highest-stationed boardroom people—but baseball can’t impose accountability on the arbiters who can, and often do, make, break, or compromise a game?

You want to send the Best Kind of Message to Kids? How about telling them that an improper lack of redress for check swings meant we’ll never know whether Wilmer Flores would have risen to the occasion of a 1-2 count, in a postseason series-deciding game, and overcome his career-long futility against Max Scherzer to keep the Giants’ now-ended season alive?

How about telling them the reason we’ll never know is because Flores was robbed of the chance to try once more at least?

Saying umpires make mistakes because they’re only human is one thing. Saying baseball shouldn’t do its best to correct and prevent key mistakes in-game—especially with a championship or an advance toward one on the line—is pitiful. Saying baseball shouldn’t do it because it would Send the Worst Kind of Messages to Kids, which is patent nonsense, should leave you at minimum with no credibility as a baseball commentator.

The strike heard ’round the world

Don Denkinger, you’re off the hook. Flores checking his swing into the arguable worst blown call in postseason history

Giants manage Gabe Kapler wouldn’t say it, even though anyone with eyes to see would say it for him. Even the Dodger fans among them. Maybe it wouldn’t change the outcome with that wired a Max Scherzer on the mound.

But ending this National League division series with that bad an umpire’s call? For the final out of the season for one team, not the first out of the ninth as was Don Denkinger’s infamous blown call at first in Game Six of the 1985 World Series?

There isn’t a jury in the land that would rule Kapler unjustified if he’d blown his proverbial stack or even demanded an investigation. This tight a Game Five between two of baseball’s most bitter of blood rivals plus the two winningest teams in this year’s Show deserved better than that.

These Dodgers and these Giants deserved better than first base umpire Gabe Morales ruling Wilmer Flores’s checked swing a strike to end it, after home plate umpire Doug Eddings—to his eternal credit—called for Morales’s help. That kind of help neither Eddings nor the Giants needed.

Two teams who’d been even-up in their regular season meetings, had the same number of hits against each other (173), and entered Game Five with each having 109 wins for the year including the postseason thus far, deserved better than a 2-1 Dodger win tainted through no fault of either team’s own.

“There are other reasons we didn’t win today’s baseball game,” Kapler said post-game. “That was just the last call of the game.” That was like a Japanese commander saying Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just the last blows of World War II.

Let’s give Morales a temporary benefit of the doubt. “[C]heck-swings are one of the hardest calls we have,” he said post-game. “I don’t have the benefit of multiple camera angles when I’m watching it live. When it happened live I thought he went, so that’s why I called it a swing.”

But Morales was shown a replay of that final pitch. Then, someone asked if he’d still call it failed check swing. Ted Barrett, the crew chief, answered for him. Sort of. As if Morales was incapable of speaking for himself.

“Yeah, no, we, yeah, yeah, he doesn’t want to say,” Barrett said. If there’s a more mealymouthed response upon a blown call’s questioning on record, I’d love to see it. Even Denkinger wasn’t that foolish when confronted with how badly he’d blown it calling Jorge Orta safe at first despite being out by almost a full step.

“Obviously you don’t want a game to end that way,” Kapler also said. “Obviously it’s going to be frustrating to have a game end like that, but pretty high quality hitter at the plate that can climb back into that count. There’s no guarantee of success in that at-bat. It’s just a tough way to end it.”

Flores checked his swing on an 0-2 pitch that came in just under the low outside corner. All things considered, especially the proliferation of dubious pitch calls all series long against both the Dodgers and the Giants, it wouldn’t have been the worst possible outcome for the plate appearance to continue.

But Flores checked his swing. Eddings called to Morales. Morales rang Flores up for game, set, and match. Sending the Dodgers to a National League Championship Series against the Braves, sending Giants fans reaching for the nearest possible liquid salves, and soiling the Game Five this series deserved otherwise.

They’d gone tooth, fang, claw, and just about anything else not just to get to Game Five in the first place but to get to the bottom of the ninth with only a single run separating them.

The Dodgers had gone to a bullpen game, opening with reliever Corey Knebel, continuing with fellow reliever Brusdar Graterol, then sending starting pitcher Julio Urias out of the pen to pitch a solid enough third through sixth. Then back to the pen men Blake Treinen for the seventh and Kenley Jansen for the eighth.

The thinking was that the Giants—a club full of elders and anonymous role players for the most part—were so deadly in situational play that, as The Athletic‘s Andy McCullough observed, the Dodgers’ best shot at neutralising that advantage by throwing two-thirds of their bullpen at the Giants and returning Urias to the postseason role where he’d been so effective in the recent past while they were at it.

It’s not that teams haven’t gone to bullpen games before. The Rays make about a third of their living doing it. Why, almost a full century ago the Washington Senators (Washington—First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League) won the 1924 World Series going to a bullpen game prototype in Game Seven.

All the Dodgers needed was Urias on board with the idea. “He earned the right to pitch in this game,” said Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior. “If he said, ‘No, I want it,’ he was going to get it.” They surveyed other Dodgers including starters Scherzer, injured Clayton Kershaw, and Walker Buehler, who’d pitched so effectively in the Dodgers’ Game Four win.

“When they were on board,” Prior said, “it made sense. Everyone is in it to win it. Let’s go.”

That’s how they countered the Giants sending their stout young starter Logan Webb out for Game Five. He gave the Dodgers as good as their pen game gave the Giants. He pitched seven solid innings. The only blemishes on Webb were Mookie Betts delivering three of the four Dodger hits against him, and Corey Seager sending the Mookie Monster home with a double down the left field line in the top of the sixth to deliver the game’s first run.

Until Scherzer came into the game, the only real blemish against the Dodgers’ pitching was Giants left fielder Darin Ruf tying the game at one leading off the bottom of the sixth, by hitting Urias’s full-count fastball over the center field fence.

But until the Flores check swing that should have been, the co-story of the game might have ended up being the Dodgers leaving the Giants behind with yet another Belli-ache plus Max the Knife plunged into their backs in the bottom of the ninth. More’s the pity.

Continuing his re-adjusted postseason revival—after an injury-marred regular season reduced him to terms so low people questioned why Dodger manager Dave Roberts kept running his former MVP out there at all—Cody Bellinger broke the one-all tie in the ninth.

He made the Giants pay after their young relief ace in the making Camilo Doval hit Justin Turner up and in on the first pitch after Will Smith grounded out to shortstop to open the top of the ninth. Gavin Lux snuck a base hit through the right side of the infield to set first and second up.

Then, Bellinger took ball one low, swung through a slider around the middle, bounced a foul ball off to the right, then shot one up the middle and into center field sending Turner home with the tiebreaking run. Which probably amped Scherzer up in the pen even more than he’d already sent himself.

When he wasn’t throwing warmup pitches, Scherzer paced and pranced like a maniac. It was a wonder nobody had to shoot a tranquiliser dart into his rump to make sure he could go in and pitch the bottom of the ninth without dismantling himself.

He all but shot in from the pen to the mound as the sides changed. It was so must-see television that the TBS broadcast obeyed the call, too, not cutting to a commercial break as he made his way to the mound. You’d have thought the back of his uniform carried not his surname and number 31 but Danger! High Explosives! Keep Back 500 Feet!

Pinch hitter Matt Beaty ended the top of the ninth by grounding out to Flores playing first for the Giants. “Flores touched first base,” said Betts with a laugh, “and it felt like Scherz was halfway to the mound.”

This was virgin territory: Scherzer had never recorded a relief save in his entire professional pitching career. Yet he flew in from the pen as though fourteen years’ worth of a Hall of Fame pitching career to date was merely the overture to his kind of Unfinished Symphony.

So, with Bellinger shifted from first base to center field and Billy McKinney out playing first, Max the Knife unsheathed. He got Crawford to line out the other way to left. He shook off Turner bobbling Kris Bryant’s grounder up the third base line enabling Bryant safe on the error to strike out Lamonte Wade, Jr., who’d been making a name for himself with assorted ninth-and-later heroics for the Giants.

Then came Flores, the former Met who’d been part of their 2015 run to the World Series. A slider hitting the middle of the zone for a called strike. A foul off. Then, the fateful slider coming down and just off the corner. The checked swing. Eddings’ appeal to Morales at first. Strike three. Game, and Giants’ season, over.

There are eleven categories of reviewable umpire calls that managers are allowed to challenge. In the postseason, a skipper gets two challenges instead of the one allowed during the regular season. Check swings and pitches aren’t among the eleven. Maybe in the postseason they ought to be.

The “human element” be damned. When Whitey Herzog (Cardinals manager in 1985) called outright for replay in his 1998 memoir You’re Missin’ a Great Game, he had it as right as right can be: “This is for the championship—let’s get it right.” This was toward a potential championship and a win-or-wait-till-next-year game in the bargain. It should have been gotten right.

Seventy years ago, the Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard ‘Round the World to finish a pennant playoff we’ve long since known, with full proof, was tainted by an off-field-based sign-stealing plot that helped those Giants come from thirteen games back to forcing that playoff in the first place.

Maybe it was tempting the fates a little too flagrantly when it turned out someone with the Giants—not a fan or fans, as I thought when seeing the sign in a flickering moment during the Game One telecast—tacked that “Remember ’51!” up on a deck rim in Oracle Park. Very clever, using a tainted triumph for motivation.

But ’51 was then, and this was Thursday night. Tainted not by cheating but by the kind of malfeasance that’s brought demands for further and fuller umpire accountability and for technology to help get the calls right. I don’t have to be as kind as Gabe Kapler.

Don Denkinger, you’re off the hook for the arguable worst blown call in postseason history. Maybe Scherzer would have retired Flores anyway if the proper call was made; maybe Flores would have kept the inning alive with a base hit. Maybe—unlikely as it might have been, considering his 0-for-17 lifetime jacket against Max the Knife—he might have tied or even won the game with one swing.

Maybe. We’ll never know now.

Until or unless baseball’s government effects real, substantial umpire accountability and stops allowing the “human element” to enable them to get away with murder, this NLDS Game Five’s finish should be known forever as The Strike Heard ‘Round the World.

It wasn’t over until it was over

Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor, about to demolish Alex Reyes’s hanging slider and the Cardinals’ season in the bottom of the ninth . . .

If the postseason means anything, it means the biggest men on the field can come up as short as the least among them can come up Bunyanesque. You can watch the big men go hammer and tongs at it only to find the last or next-to-last man swung the wrecking ball that counted.

But if you thought a utility man who’d gone seven-for-September (well, seven hits in 71 plate appearances) would send the Dodgers to a National League division series after spending most of the NL wild card game riding the proverbial pine, you should be buying stocks, futures, and lottery tickets.

Infielder-outfielder Chris Taylor was sent into the game to open the seventh in left field, in a managerial double switch, and bat ninth in the order. And in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday night, with two outs, Cody Bellinger on second, and Alex Reyes on the mound for the Cardinals, Taylor with one swing reinforced two inviolable laws.

One was the Biblical admonition about the last being first. The other was Berra’s Law. The truest valedictory for this National League wild card game is that it most assuredly wasn’t over until it was over. It took a man who’d gone from All-Star in the season’s first half to also-ran in the second half, when a neck nerve issue contributed to making him almost literally half the player he’d been from April through July.

The number nine batter sent the Dodgers toward a division series showdown with their lifelong blood rivals, the Giants, with one swing, one two-run homer, and one moment in which the Elysian Fields angels decided the Red Sox deflating the Yankees in the American League wild card game just wasn’t quite enough.

Taylor turned on Reyes’s slider hanging a sliver under the belt and sent the ball about ten rows into the left field bleachers. He also sent Dodger Stadium into a racket that could have been heard practically across the state line separating California from Nevada.

Remember Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck’s ancient holler after broken-bodied Kirk Gibson ended Game One of the 1988 World Series with a home run? Even home plate umpire Joe West—on the threshold of retirement at last—looked as though he wanted for once to come out from behind his cloak of professionalism, and beyond his reputation for inserting himself too much into games, to holler it.

I don’t believe—what I just saw!

Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer believed it. Those who were there swear Scherzer turned to Dodger reliever Joe Kelly in the dugout as Bellinger checked in at the plate, telling Kelly, “I think Belli is going to get on here, and CT is gonna hit a homer.” If that’s true, maybe Scherzer should be buying stocks, futures, and lottery tickets himself.

Bellinger—whose regular season was laid waste by incomplete recovery from shoulder surgery last off-season and more than a few injuries nagging and otherwise including a broken bone or two—wrung himself into a full-count walk. Then, he stole second when Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ grand old man behind the plate, couldn’t find a handle to throw against Bellinger’s big jump off first.

With the next pitch, Taylor made Scherzer into a prophet. Ending a game in which neither side could pry more than a single run out of either Scherzer or the Cardinals’ co-grand old man Adam Wainwright despite neither righthander having anything much resembling their truly vintage repertoires, other than a few tastes of Scherzer’s better sliders and Wainwright’s better curve balls.

“We’re going to need him,” Dodger manager Dave Roberts said about Taylor before the game. “I can’t predict what spot, whether it’s to get a bunt down, take an at-bat, play defense, start a game. I can’t predict that. I do know that he’s one of my favorite players. I trust him as a ballplayer, as a person. We’re going to need him this postseason.”

Need, meet net result. And, the newest member of a distinguished fraternity of modest men who step up immodestly in the postseason when it matters the most.

With the Dodgers’ season on the line—and TBS broadcasters Brian Anderson and Ron Darling having predicted two innings earlier that the game was liable to be won in the final at-bat—Taylor joined the like of Travis Ishikawa, Chris Burke, Aaron Boone, Todd Pratt, and Bucky Dent on the roll of the unlikeliest postseason bombers making the difference in win-or-be-gone games.

“[I]t’s been a grind for me,” Taylor said postgame. “I haven’t been playing my best. So to come through in the ninth, it felt really really good.”

Somehow, some way, Wainwright ground through five and a third innings with only Justin Turner’s leadoff launch to the rear of the Dodger bullpen in the fourth against him. Scherzer didn’t quite last that long. Despite his game-long wrestling matches with the Cardinal lineup, he was none too thrilled to get the hook in the fifth. He wouldn’t even give Roberts the ball as he left the mound.

Post-game, of course, Max the Knife was in his glory, interviewing shirtless and slightly inebriated from the party champagne. And, celebrating with his erstwhile Nationals teammate Juan Soto, who’d been in the field boxes—wearing Dodger shortstop Trea Turner’s Nats jersey, sitting next to Nats hitting coach Kevin Long in Scherzer’s Nats jersey.

“You gotta get rid of this echo,” Scherzer said on camera. “Can’t talk. I’m drunk, whatever.”

For all that the Cardinals made Scherzer wiggle into and out of jams as if it were par for the course, the only run they pried out of him was his own doing, when he wild-pitched Tommy Edman home on 0-2 to Nolen Arenado in the top of the first.

This was a game dominated by full counts, batters unable to cash gloriously positioned baserunners in, even with Scherzer and Wainwright looking like the elders they are on the mound. The Cardinals had the worst of that, going 0-for-11 with men in scoring position against Scherzer and four Dodger relievers—particularly resurgent closer Kenley Jansen, striking out the side in the ninth around Edman’s one-out single and theft of second.

Taylor also ended a too-brief battle between two men who’d gone from first-half boom to second-half bust. Like Taylor, Reyes was an All-Star for his first half. But he’d pitched his way out of the Cardinals’ closing job in the second. Just as Dodger manager Dave Roberts never once lost faith in his veteran Taylor, Cardinals manager Mike Schildt never really lost true faith in his still-young reliever.

Schildt isn’t the only one having Reyes’ back after Taylor broke his and the Cardinals’ backs Wednesday night.

“I just gave him gave him a huge hug,” said Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ other grand old man and wild card game starter. “Told him we love him, told him I loved him and gave him another big hug and just told him how special he was as a player and as a teammate, as a person.

“You know, it’s all you can say in a moment like that,” Wainwright continued. “He doesn’t probably want to hear any of it, but it’s all true. He’s a great teammate, is a great player. He’s a great pitcher. He’s a great friend, and I hate seeing anyone go through that, but he’s got an incredible future ahead of him.”

He’ll only have to shake off having thrown the pitch that ended a season in which the Cardinals lost a little too much—including their pitching ace-in-the-continuing-making Jack Flaherty—to the injured list and to deflated expectations for much of the season.

A season in which the Cardinals ironed up when it mattered most and rode a staggering seventeen-game winning streak, not to mention a fine young outfield, a mostly stingy defense overall, mostly solid hitting, and their elder anchorage of Wainwright and Molina,  toward the second National League wild card.

The Dodgers might have been humiliated more if they came up short. A 106 game-winning defending World Series winner, settling for the first National League wild card, after they couldn’t quite get that one game past the NL West-winning Giants? There wouldn’t be enough available space to hold all the variations on the implosion theme.

There may not be enough space to hold all the variations of Taylor-made sure to come forth now.

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.