Harper’s class can’t fix a true pitching dilemna

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper took the highest road before Thursday’s Phillies-Cardinals game. Phillies reliever Hector Neris took the lowest in the ninth Thursday night.

When the Phillies and the Cardinals tangled the night after Bryce Harper and Didi Grigorius took back-to-back drills, from Cardinal reliever Genesis Cabrera’s first two pitches of the top of the sixth, you’d have understood almost completely if the Phillies came out bent on making the Cardinals pay.

You’d have understood because a) Harper’s was the truly frightening one, taking a runaway 97mph fastball on the left side of his nose that knocked his helmet clean off and him to the ground; and, b) the umpires saw fit to issue nothing but warnings to both side, without doing what one of today’s most foolish new rules bars a manager from doing.

But therefore you wouldn’t have known that Harper himself put a stop to any possibility of all-out war before the Phillies and the Cardinals met again Thursday. Until Phillies reliever Hector Neris said not so fast in the bottom of the ninth at Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado’s expense.

I couldn’t find the exact words in question, but Harper sent Cardinals manager Mike Schildt a text message saying, essentially, Your guy wasn’t trying to decapitate me, he had an off night, you know it and I know it, and I didn’t get my brains blown out or my head torn off, so don’t let it blow you or him apart, my dudes, we’re good.

Whatever the actual words Harper sent Schildt the day after he nearly went from Genesis to Revelation, Schildt was nothing but appreciative. It’s not every day that an almost-headless man shows a little empathy for the unintended executioner.

“Whoever’s a fan of Bryce Harper, whoever has children that are fans of Bryce Harper, support that guy,” Schildt told reporters. “Because what he sent over in a message today was completely a class act.”

If anyone knows the difference between lack of intent and deadly intent, it should be Harper. Four years ago, almost, then-Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland opened the top of the eighth facing then-National Harper by hitting Harper in the hip—in payback for a three-year-old pair of postseason home runs—with a pitch so obvious that Stevie Wonder would have seen intent without blinking twice.

Before the rule mandating relief pitchers face three batters at minimum unless he came in mid-inning and ended the inning before a third batter faced, Schildt by his own Wednesday night post-game admission would have gotten Cabrera the hell out of there after following Harper’s near-beheading with a drill through Grigorius’s ribs.

Why the umpires didn’t remains a mystery at this writing. The umps have been asleep at the switches an awful lot this season thus far, on the field and even in the replay review rooms in New York. If they’re not calling strikes on pitches far enough from the zone that you could fly a plane through the space, they’re calling walkoff hit by pitches on near-flagrant bids to take one for the team with the pillows stuffed.

On Wednesday night, they warned both the Phillies and the Cardinals against any further funny business. Then, they ejected Phillies manager Joe Girardi when he sailed out of his dugout demanding accountability for Cabrera’s obvious wildness following the Grigorius drill.

“I understand they don’t want things to escalate. They don’t want people to get hit. But if a guy hits a guy in the face and a guy in the ribs with two pitches, he’s got to go, right?” Schildt himself told the press post-game. “If you’re really protecting the players, obviously, he doesn’t have command. He’s got to go.”

The official rules don’t specify when an umpire can order a wild pitcher out of a game on behalf of keeping peace. But The Baseball Codes author Jason Turnbow, writing on his Website of the same name, says the arbiters have the option by default: “[U]mpires have one more wrinkle to consider in the same spirit as bench warnings: Those times when ejecting a pitcher for his own good might actually serve to cool tensions from both sides of the field.”

Sometimes it seems as though almost nobody wants to address a concurrent issue that Harper’s former Nationals teammate Ryan Zimmerman does: baseball organisations seeking and finding pitchers who can throw supersonic pitches but haven’t learned to control them properly.

“You see these teams just call up these guys that throw 95 or 100 mph and the team doesn’t really care. They’re just trying to see if they have anything in them,” Zimmerman told the 106.7 radio station’s Sports Junkies podcast after his old mate and friend nearly lost his head Wednesday night.

A couple years ago, these guys would be in Double-A or Triple-A for another year trying to learn how to pitch but these teams just call them up to see if they can kinda hit lightning in a bottle. If not, they send them back down. They don’t care if they hit four guys on the other team. What does it matter to them? The [general manager] of the other team is not in the box, so he doesn’t care. It’s a different kind of game but it is what it is and that’s where we’re at.

You almost predict what those clubs want: floods of strikeouts. But Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven got floods of strikeouts (3,701 lifetime) and his money pitch was maybe the third most monstrously voluptuous curve ball yours truly has ever seen. (Numeros two-o and uno: Dwight Gooden, and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.)

It’s bad enough that the three-batter relief minimum throttles managers from getting wild pitchers out of there before they do worse damage than turned out done to Harper and Grigorius Wednesday night. It’s worse when baseball organisations seem to believe pitching is purely a matter of who can throw the lamb chops faster and farther past the wolves.

“Hitting is timing,” Hall of Fame lefthander Warren Spahn once said. “Pitching is destroying timing.” That was then, this is now, and for once the Old School has it right. Today hitting may still be timing, for all the overstated obsession with launch angles and exit velocities, but pitching today often seems oriented on destroying batters instead of their timing.

In case you were curious, the prankish Spahn—whose money pitch was a screwball and who happened to be one, himself, especially allied to longtime Braves buddy Lew Burdette—averaged two hit batsmen a year.

That was also then: minor league legend Steve Dalkowski could throw a cruise missile past a fighter jet on Mach-plus cruising speed. But he couldn’t find the strike zone with a search party and bloodhounds half of the time. (The ill-fated Dalkowski never saw one inning’s major league action: he’d barely made the ’63 Orioles roster in spring training when he blew his elbow out during an exhibition game.)

This is today: If Zimmerman is right, today’s organisation wouldn’t care half as much for Dalkowski’s inability to find and keep the strike zone as for his ability to scare the opposition to death and back.

NBC Sports writer Matt Weyrich says there are some hard numbers supporting Zimmerman’s theory: In 2018, the Show set a new record with 1,922 pitches hitting batters. Then, in 2019, the Show broke that record by 62. The wild pitches also climbed, with the Show’s seven highest wild pitch totals “all recorded in the seven seasons from 2013-2019.” This year’s 291 wild pitches and 354 pitches hitting batters, Weyrich adds, threaten to set new league records yet again.

Remember the postgame exchange between fictitious Durham Bulls manager Skip Riggins and coach Larry Hockett about Dalkowski-inspired pitching prospect Nuke LaLoosh in Bull Durham?

Riggins: He walked eighteen.
Hockett: New. league. record.
Riggins: He struck out 18.
Hockett: Another new. league. record. In addition, he hit the sportswriters, the public-address announcer, the bull mascot— twice—also new. league. records. But, Joe—this guy’s got some serious shit.

In theaters and on DVD, that’s about ten laughs. In the real game, it’s as funny as a shave with a Mixmaster. “You’re in the big leagues,” Zimmerman told that podcast. “There’s kind of a thought that if you’re at this level, you should be able to control — especially if you’re throwing 97 mph.”

Did any rough stuff happen between the Phillies and the Cardinals on Thursday night, then? Well, yes, there was—briefly. And that was with neither Harper nor Grigorius playing, Girardi having added that both players would be re-examined when the team returned to Philadelphia today to open a weekend set with the Mets.

With the game tied three-all, and two outs in the bottom of the ninth, Neris decided Harper didn’t speak for him when sending Schildt that pregame, give-peace-a-chance text.

Neris gave his own piece a chance at the expense of Cardinals third baseman Nolan Arenado—hitting him up and in and on the back of the shoulder on the only pitch of the plate appearance.

Would Girardi or any other Phillie care to expose just who whacked Neris with the stupid stick? The righthander resembled a bullying coward willing to endanger his own team for the sake of who the hell knew exactly what. He was lucky the benches didn’t clear after betraying the letter and intent behind Harper’s olive branch.

It wasn’t as though the next Cardinal batter was liable to blast a two-run homer to win it on the spot. Tyler O’Neill plays major league baseball in the first place because he’s a very plus outfielder. At the plate, calling him a spaghetti bat might be putting things politely. Don’t think Neris wasn’t aware of it when he did what four Phillies pitchers preceding him didn’t even think about doing.

He hit one of the Cardinals’ big sticks to take the easy out, striking O’Neill out on three pitches. Neris is lucky Schildt took the higher road likewise, applauding the Arenado hit as “old school baseball.”

Then another Phillie reliever, David Hale, threw a wild pitch past Cardinals shortstop Edmundo Sosa, a pitch catcher J.T. Realmuto might or might not have been able to block successfully considering its movement. It allowed O’Neill—who began the inning as the free cookie on second to open it, and took third when Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner grounded out leading off—to score the winner in the bottom of the tenth.

Neris should count his blessings that it looks as though he won’t get a week’s detention.

From Genesis to Revelation

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper, a split second before his nose met Genesis Cabrera’s fastball leading off the sixth Wednesday night.

Eons ago, it seems now, Yogi Berra had a handy response to those who thought he looked like one of the title supporting players in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan of the Apes. “It don’t matter if you’re ugly in this racket,” the Hall of Famer said, “All you have to do is hit the ball. And I never saw anybody hit one with his face.”

Berra got a few laughs while he drove home one point. But the flip side is that you can see one hitter too many take one with his face, which is every hitter who ever had to do it.

Thank God and His servant Stengel that it’s still the exception. It still doesn’t erase the fear of longtime watchers and fans that the latest such victim will be the game’s next Tony Conigliaro. Such fears even among his critics struck when Bryce Harper’s face was in the top of the sixth Wednesday night.

Hit one with his face? Harper led off the inning seeing one pitch from Cardinals reliever Genesis Cabrera. The pitch sailed up and into Harper’s nose on the left side while knocking his batting helmet clean off his head and the Phillies’ right fielder crumpling to the ground in the batter’s box.

The man who nearly went from Genesis to Revelation merely picked himself up, dusted himself off, and walked away from the plate under his own power. Rather gutsy for a man who was lucky he wasn’t decapitated by a fastball that veered so far off course it would have inspired “Mayday! Mayday!” calls from the crew if it was an airplane.

What we ought to be hearing now is louder demands that the ridiculous three-batter minimum for relief pitchers unless they ended an inning facing fewer needs to go the way of the Oldsmobile. Faster than the Oldsmobile went away, too.

Phillies manager Joe Girardi anguished for his man but maintained in the moment, sending Matt Joyce out to pinch run. Then Phillies shortstop Didi Gregorius checked in at the plate. He saw one pitch from Cabrera, too. This time, the errant fastball didn’t sail up toward his sight lines but, rather, did a magnificent job of trying to bore a hole in his ribs.

The umpiring crew issued warnings to both sides. Nothing more. Since a manager can’t remove an out-of-control relief pitcher until he’s seen three batters minimum under the current and extremely dubious rule, it should be on their heads as to why Cabrera was allowed to remain in the game despite two pitches dropping two batters dangerously enough.

That was enough to send Girardi sailing out of his dugout in raw fury. As might you if you’d seen the first two of your men scheduled to bat in the inning coned and drilled back-to-back, on two pitches, courtesy of a pitcher who’d just entered the game but shown as much control as a runaway truck.

Raw fury and naked fear. Girardi knows only too well the terror of fastballs reaching your face. He took one in his own pan from then-Padres pitcher Woody Williams in 2000. As happened to Harper Wednesday night, that Williams pitch drew blood from Girardi’s own schnozzola. “It’s extremely scary,” he said of Harper’s drop, “and I can tell you from experience.”

Under normal circumstances, Girardi is one of the more mild-mannered men in baseball, even given his well-known competitiveness. But he was enraged almost as much by the umps not even thinking of sending Cabrera to the rest of the night off as he was by his first two sixth-inning swingers getting hit by those out-of-control fastballs.

“I understand why they give the warnings, right?” he told reporters. “I understand they don’t want things to escalate. They don’t want people to get hit. But if a guy hits a guy in the face and a guy in the ribs with two pitches, he’s got to go, right? If you’re really protecting the players, obviously, he doesn’t have command. He’s got to go.”

So Girardi fumed to the umpires and, rather theatrically, turned to Cabrera and made the gesture umpires usually use when they’re giving someone the ho-heave. If you can think of any precedent for a manager throwing an opposing player out of the game, Girardi might like to know it. The gesture proved only that, lawfully.

But it also proved Girardi’s own departure, when plate umpire Chris Segal promptly did to him what he believed appropriately should have been done to Cabrera. As he walked off the field following the thumb, Girardi barked at Cabrera, “Throw the [fornicating] ball over the plate!” Not an unreasonable demand.

He also exchanged a bark or three from a distance with Cardinals manager Mike Schildt, who spoke after the game like a man who didn’t exactly have in mind trying to beat the other guys by assassination instead of playing baseball.

Schildt also admitted something that flies in the face of the pan-damn-ic inspired three-batter relief minimum rule. If not for that rule, Schildt told reporters, he would have gotten Cabrera out of the game the moment Harper hit the deck.

“That’s a failure of the three-batter minimum,” he told the press. “It absolutely is that. Completely, absolutely, no doubt. But that’s an outlier of it.” He’s right about the hit batsmen issue with one pitcher whose control went AWOL for the evening. But as The Athletic’s Matt Gelb observes rightly enough, “The rule was designed to quicken games (it has not) and has generated unintended consequences (too many to count).”

Schildt won’t hear Girardi complain. This very circumstance—a pitcher brought in with his control missing stuck for three batters even if he hits one, never mind two—has been one of Girardi’s primary exhibits when fuming, as he’s done from the moment it poked its nose out of its hole, against the three-batter minimum.

After Grigorius took his base to set up first and second, Andrew McCutchen singled Joyce home to break the three-all tie and chase Cabrera out of the game. One inning later, Grigorius himself sent Alec Bohm home on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly with what proved to be the final score, 5-3 Phillies.

Then things got a little testy in the bottom of the eighth, after Phillies reliever Sam Coonrod shook off Nolan Arenado’s leadoff single to strike Paul DeJong out and lure Tyler O’Neill—who’d hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second—into a broken-bat grounder to short that Grigorius might have caught but took on the hop for a step-and-throw, inning-ending double play.

Viewers at home then saw a commercial followed by Coonrod walking off the field, but not without pointing and hollering at the Cardinals dugout. Small wonder. During the commercial break, Coonrod looked as though he wanted nothing more than to bake five and twenty Redbirds in a pie.

Phillies third baseman Brad Miller—whose own two-run bomb tied the game at three in the first place an inning before Harper and Grigorius got coned and drilled—tried to stop Coonrod before inadvertently letting go of the reliever’s hand. But Coonrod, himself a St. Louis product, put all thoughts of one-man demolition out of his mind and settled for a few hollerings, though he knew in his heart of gut Cabrera wasn’t exactly trying to vapourise his two teammates.

“As a teammate, you appreciate the intensity,” Miller told reporters after the game. “The dude came in and got some big outs for us. It’s a close game. And, yeah, he was a little fired up, obviously. Three getting hit like that was pretty scary.” “Three,” of course, refers to Harper’s uniform number.

Cabrera himself was genuinely contrite after the game—wasn’t he? “I want to apologise for all of the action that happened, especially to Harper,” he said through his translator. “I really wish him the best. I hope he has a speedy recovery, in whatever it is that happened, and that he’ll be able to return to baseball activities. The game got away from me at that point. I’m really sorry for everything that happened today. None of it was intentional. And again, I’m sorry for everything.”

Is it just me, or did a lot of Cabrera’s remark sound like prepared boilerplate?

Struggling teams are known to feel more than a little fired back up after confronting near-disaster. Until Wednesday night, the Phillies were a back-and-forth .500 team with inconsistency at the plate and arson out of the bullpen. What they showed after Harper and Grigorius got drilled reminds you that it’s a somewhat sad thing if and when a team rehorses and irons up after coming face to face with near manslaughter.

Sore winners

2019-10-10 StLouisCardinals

The Cardinals earned their coming NLCS berth . . . and their skipper earned them an image as unsportsmanlike winners with a postgame rant.

Until he was out-boxed and out-thought by Muhammad Ali in 1964, Sonny Liston was so brutal in the ring he inspired gags about knocking his opponents out before the weighing-in was finished. Forgive the Braves if they think they were stink bombed, pistol whipped, and machine-gunned before “Play ball!” finished escaping the umpire’s mouth.

In avian terms cardinals are seed-eaters by nature, not birds of prey. Don’t tell that to the Braves at any time from now until spring training. Because baseball’s Cardinals turned into glandular enough birds of prey in the top of the first Wednesday afternoon. Leaving no carrion behind.

The 13-1 final score almost didn’t matter. What the Braves incurred from the Cardinals not even Alfred Hitchcock could have conjured. Losing a tenth consecutive postseason set was bad enough. How the Braves were destroyed in Game Five of this National League division series was precedent setting.

No team in the history of division series play ever scored ten runs in a single inning until the Cardinals did it to open Game Five. They did it without one batter in Cardinals feathers hitting one into the seats. It went from small ball to medium ball. Not that the Braves cared, particularly. It hurt just as deep as if they’d been nuked.

Especially after they were four measly outs from going to the National League Championship Series themselves on Monday night. Before Yadier Molina singled home the tying run in the eighth and hit the game-ending sacrifice fly in the tenth in Game Four. Before the trip back to Atlanta. Before the early burial.

Before Cardinals center fielder Dexter Fowler, once a World Series-winning Cub whose St. Louis tenure hasn’t always been a joyful noise, got thatclose to striking out before wringing a game-opening seven-pitch walk out of Braves starter Mike Foltynewicz. Before the Cardinals sent ten runs across the plate without one single soul hitting one into the seats.

And before Cardinals manager Mike Shildt—who looks so prototypically like a nerd you’d think he knew no expletive stronger than deleted at first glance—delivered a postgame rant of the kind that usually comes when a team’s been battered, not the other way around.

Tommy Lasorda and Lee Elia, you’ve been upstaged. Meet Shildt, in one fateful moment he’d surely love to walk back now. Meet Shildt, the sorest winner on the planet.

Once upon a time another generation of Cardinals collapsed so thoroughly in Game Seven of the 1985 World Series after being jobbed by a blown call near the end of Game Six that they looked like unsportsmanlike chokers. Shildt made his 2019 Cardinals look like unsportsmanlike winners.

“They [the Braves] started some (excrement). We finished the (excrement),” Shildt growled. “And that’s how we roll. No one (fornicates) with us ever. Now, I don’t give a (feces) who we play. We’re gonna (fornicate) them up. We’re gonna take it right to them the whole (fornicating) way. We’re gonna kick their (fornicating) ass.”

Rookie Cardinals outfielder Randy Arozarena, a ninth-inning pinch hitter who finished Game Five playing right field, filmed Shildt’s rant and posted it to Instagram. That’ll teach him. He couldn’t delete the post or apologise fast enough once it hit the Internet flying. Too late. Way to soil your own achievement, boys.

Fowler may or may not have been lucky to survive long enough to wring that game-opening walk; on 1-2 he foul ticked a pitch by less than a hair. “Did I?” he cracked after the game. “That was so long ago I can’t even remember.”

Foltynewicz hadn’t walked a single soul in his Game Two start. Little did he know. And little did anyone in the joint know Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong would even think about sacrificing Fowler to second, never mind doing it almost immediately. “After a good at-bat by Dex,” he’d say, “I told myself, ‘Just get him scoring position’.”

The Cardinals had one goal going in: take the Braves’ home audience out of the game as soon as possible. During the National Anthem if need be. They got close enough. After that, knowing they were sending Jack Flaherty to the mound, they figured a single run might be enough for the kid who pitched the National League’s ears off in the season’s second half.

“We know what kind of a pitcher Foltynewicz is and what he did to us last time and the way this series has been,” said first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who beat out an infield hit right after Wong’s sacrifice. “We wanted to get on the board early.”

He forgot to mention the “often” part. And after left fielder Marcell Ozuna lofted a pitch that arrived around his toes into right to send Fowler home, Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman—as close to Old Reliable as the Braves have had since the retirement of Hall of Famer Chipper Jones—mishandled Yadier Molina’s hard grounder to load the bases.

Having the arguable worst week of his career as it was, en route a .200 NLDS batting average on four hits (including one homer and one double), six strikeouts, and one walk in 21 plate appearances, Freeman didn’t flinch after the massacre. “They got nine more runs,” he said. “That was pretty much the game right there.”

Matt Carpenter, penciled in to start at third base for the Cardinals, walked in a run. Tommy Edman, who’d taken Carpenter’s job during the season but was penciled in to start in the Game Five outfield, tore a two-run double down the right field line and chased Foltynewicz in favour of Max Fried. The Braves ordered a free pass to Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong.

And Flaherty had the strange distinction of becoming the rarest breed of pitcher: one who gets to hit before he’s even thrown a single pitch. Not to mention facing his high school buddy and teammate Fried. And he walked Carpenter home.

“I’m laughing because Max is up there,” the righthanded boy wonder remembered after the game about approaching the plate. “I’m trying to keep a straight face. I looked up into the stands and saw my mom, which was great. She was smiling and all excited. I didn’t expect Max.” That’s nothing compared to what Fried didn’t expect.

He didn’t expect Fowler and Wong to hit back-to-back RBI doubles. He didn’t expect to throw a wild pitch to Ozuna for strike three enabling Wong to come home after Goldschmidt left Wong room enough to take third on a line out to right. You almost swore Molina grounded out to end the flood at last because he took pity on the Braves for one brief, shining moment.

Adam Wainwright, who pitched heroically enough in Game Three only to see it laid to waste late, could barely believe what he saw from his seat in the Cardinal dugout. “Have you seen anything like that?” he asked before answering after the game. “We just kept the pedal to the metal . . . I was just trying to stay in the moment, but after that inning I came in to the guys and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like that’.”

The rest of the game seemed almost ceremonial even if Flaherty didn’t exactly have an untroubled outing. He shook of first and second and one out in the first, shrugged off Josh Donaldson’s solo home run in the fourth, and survived a bases-loaded jam in the fifth when he lost control momentarily and hit Ronald Acuna, Jr. with a pitch.

Considering the testiness between Acuna and the Cardinals most of the series the easiest thought to indulge was Flaherty trying to send the Braves’ youthful center field star a message. Considering everything else by that time, there was no way Flaherty would send a message pitch with what was then a twelve-run cushion that should have felt more like a hot tub, especially since Flaherty faced Acuna in the first and walked him without so much as a thought of inside and tight.

Pitching coach Mike Maddux went out to the mound at once to settle Flaherty. He didn’t want his lad making the same mistake Foltynewicz made in that first-inning flood, crossing the line between pitching with emotion and emotionally pitching. Flaherty got the message and got rid of Freeman on a ground out to second for the side.

After the flood, the Cardinals flipped from opening with offense on the brain to pure defense. They moved Edman to third and Fowler to right and sent Harrison Bader out to center field immediately after they’d finished the ten-run opening act. As if to remind his team he knew good and bloody well he had more than a glove working for him, Edman tore one off the top of the right field wall for a one-out triple in the top of the second.

Paul DeJong didn’t give Fried a moment to breathe before he ripped the next pitch off the wall for an RBI double. And after Flaherty zipped through the Braves in order in the bottom, Luke Jackson relieved Fried. He walked Wong on a full count, struck out Goldschmidt, plunked Ozuna on the first pitch, and got a sharp grounder out of Molina.

A grounder Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson picked and shoveled to second baseman Ozzie Albies, and the ball hit Albies’s bare hand leaving all hands safe. Then Bader lined one up the middle to score Wong and, after Edman struck out, DeJong hit another first pitch right through the left side to score Ozuna.

Thirteen runs in three innings. The rest of the game felt like a plain formality. The Braves bullpen from Josh Tomlin forward kept the Cardinals so quiet the rest of the way you began to feel tempted toward asking Braves manager Brian Snitker whether he’d think about trying a purely bullpen game if he could get a Game Five do-over.

“I don’t know that I’ve seen that many guys hit in the first inning that quick in my entire life,” Snitker said. “I don’t know. It wasn’t how we drew it up, I know that. I don’t know. That thing just kept rolling and we couldn’t stop it.”

“Everyone had sky high confidence going into that game and them scoring ten runs, it’s hard to swallow,” said Freeman after the game. “Everything went wrong from the get-go.”

“You don’t expect something like that to happen,” Donaldson lamented, “especially with how well we played all season.”

Any more than you expected Shildt’s post-mortem potty-mouth.

Tony La Russa’s Cardinals beat the Dodgers in a 2004 division series and, after it ended, led his players across the field for a handshake-and-hug line with the Dodgers after the 3-1 triumph. (Effervescent Jose Lima’s Game Three shutout was the only Dodgers win.) It was a grand and entirely endearing gesture. And baseball’s then-chief of discipline Bob Watson reprimanded the Cardinals for it.

La Russa may have had his flaws, but ranting like a drunken sailor over the freshly vanquished wasn’t one of them. Where’s Joe Torre, fellow Hall of Fame manager who now has Watson’s job among his other duties out of the commissioner’s office, to reprimand Shildt?

Letting the kids play is one thing. Letting them enjoy the living daylights out of the moment when they do big things without being broiled by baseball’s Fun Police for it is another thing. But letting a manager get away with a Shildt-like rant after a win at all, never mind one as lopsided as the Cardinals’ on Wednesday? That’s [fornicating] something else entirely.

This wasn’t Yankee manager Aaron Boone going on his now-famous “savages” rant in support of his players after a couple of nasty arguments with a couple of questionable umpires. This was a manager whose team had just humiliated a worthy opponent but who couldn’t resist grinding his heel on their fallen necks.

Arozarena owned up to making a rookie mistake posting his manager’s postgame potty mouth. Shildt made his team look so juvenile that most other fan bases in baseball will forget how surreal their first inning achievement was and hope the Cardinals go down hard in the National League Championship Series.

And if they do, they’ll probably find Braves fans leading the anti-charge. With no jury in the land prepared to rule them unjustified. It’s the least they can be allowed now.

Sunday, bloody Sunday

2019 NLDS Game 3 - Atlanta Braves v. St. Louis Cardinals

Adam Wainwright’s Sunday virtuosity ended up going for naught.

Adam Wainwright had every reason on earth to feel nothing but a powerful desire to arrange Carlos Martinez’s necktie party Sunday. So did every citizen of Cardinal Country. So did every last baseball fan who prayed for and got an impeccable pitchers’ duel, with the Braves’ Mike Soroka playing Dickey Betts to Wainwright’s Duane Allman for virtuosity.

The duel that ended with Martinez’s Spike Jones sneaking explosives into the drums and the Braves standing one win from a National League Championship Series engagement. It’s a good thing for Martinez that Wainwright is a forgiving soul. He had no intention after the staggering 3-1 Braves win in Busch Stadium of doing anything but giving Martinez a big hug.

“And Carlos will be ready tomorrow,” the 38-year-old righthander who may be approaching the end of a solid if injury-compromised career. “Let’s hope one moment doesn’t define his season, because I’d like to see him get another chance.”

Unfortunately, Wainwright and Cardinals manager Mike Schildt may be the only one with that wish. “He’ll be in that spot [Monday],” the skipper said, “and I’ll have full confidence in him.” He says that now, but . . .

Even Braves closer Mark Melancon had Martinez’s back after the game. “You’re not looking to see guys fail,” he told a reporter. “You want to do it the right way, big on big and beat somebody. We’ve all been there. I can’t say that I didn’t want to win, but Carlos is an incredible pitcher. We’ve got to come back strong tomorrow because he’s going to come back, I’m sure.”

After opening with a leadoff double but two straight strikeouts Sunday afternoon, Martinez surrendering back-to-back RBI hits that broke the Cardinals’ backs and Cardinal Country’s hearts for the bottom of the ninth means nobody’s really sure. “There were some pitches that didn’t go where they were supposed to go,” the righthander said afterward. “I didn’t have the best grip on the slider. I tried to get that pitch to do what it was supposed to do and I didn’t get to it.”

The single greatest exhibition of pressure pitching of Wainwright’s life was laid to waste right there.

With an enviable enough postseason pitching record as it is—he has a lifetime 2.79 ERA and 1.03 walks/hits per inning pitched rate in October—Wainwright for seven innings couldn’t be stopped with a subpoena, never mind a S.W.A.T. team. Especially throwing the curve ball he calls King Charles, the way Mets legend Dwight Gooden’s curve was once known as Lord Charles.

If Wainwright wasn’t quite as masterly as the Astros’ Gerrit Cole the day before, he was close enough and too much so for the Braves’ discomfort. He nailed eight strikeouts, trusted his defenders just enough, didn’t let plate umpire Sam Holbrook’s microscopic strike zone faze him any more than Soroka did, didn’t let his own club’s lack of cash-in offense bother him, and made a 1-0 lead—acquired on a Marcell Ozuna double, a Yadier Molina ground out pushing Ozuna to third, and a Matt Carpenter sacrifice fly in the second inning—feel almost like a 10-0 lead.

Then, after Brian McCann popped out to the third base side near the plate to open the top of the eighth, Wainwright’s tank ran past E. Dansby Swanson shot one through the hole at short for a single. Soroka’s pinch hitter Adam Duvall lined out to third but Ronald Acuna, Jr. worked himself to a full-count walk, Wainwright’s first of the day. And Ozzie Albies walked on 3-1 to load the pads for Freddie Freeman.

Exit Wainwright, enter Andrew Miller, who hasn’t been the same as he was with the Indians thanks to their overworking him while he was hot and a couple of injuries to follow that have sapped his once-formidable repertoire if not his heart. The Cardinals needed it to be classic Miller Time in the worst way possible now.

And after a swinging strike to open, Miller got Freeman to fly out to Dexter Fowler in center field and strand the ducks on the pond.

The problem was, the Cardinals weren’t any better after pushing Soroka’s relief Max Fried in the bottom of the eighth. Fried walked Carpenter to open, with Schildt sending swift Harrison Bader out to run for the veteran. Bader distracted Fried enough to compel a walk to Tommy Edman before Paul DeJong flied out toward the right field line. Exit Fried, enter Darren O’Day.

Also enter Jose Martinez pinch hitting in Miller’s lineup slot. O’Day faked a throw over and Bader took off, only to get hung up between second and third before O’Day threw him out at third. Then Martinez hit a sinking liner to left that Duvall on his horse could only reach and trap. You could taste the RBI that wasn’t on a plate dipped in A-1 sauce.

Bader’s arrest for attempted grand theft loomed even larger after Sean Newcomb relieved Day and got Fowler to fly out to his center field counterpart Acuna for the side. Then Schildt put Bader into center field, moved Edman from right field to third base, shifted Fowler to right field, and called on Carlos Martinez.

Josh Donaldson might have ripped a double past the diving Edman at third and down the left field line into the corner for a leadoff double, but Martinez bagged Nick Markakis and pinch hitter Adeiny Hechevarria—who’d been 4-for-6 in that role since joining the Braves—back to back on swinging strikeouts.

The bad news was Donaldson’s pinch runner Billy Hamilton, whose road running on the bases is almost his only ability that enables him to play major league baseball, getting too much into Martinez’s head. So much so that when Hechevarria swung strike three Hamilton stole third without so much as a beat cop hollering “Stop, thief!”

“At the time you want to get to third with one out, so that was a bad break,” Hamilton told reporters after the game. “But getting to third even with two outs, what if Martinez bounces one in the dirt? I could score. And maybe he has to pitch the next guy differently.”

Then, after Molina and Martinez confabbed at the mound with Molina obviously upset and Schildt joining them to settle them down and get back to business, McCann—the potential go-ahead run—was awarded first on the house and Rafael Ortega assigned to pinch run for the prodigal Braves’ catcher.

Swanson checked in at the plate 0-for-6 lifetime against Martinez. Every star aligned in Martinez’s favour. “The Cardinals start doing game management,” said McCann after the game, “and then Dansby came up clutch.”

Clutch enough to send one off the left field fence and send Hamilton home to tie it at one. “God blessed me with good hand-eye coordination,” the Braves’ shortstop said after the game. “In those situations, you just try and breathe and relax. It’s easier said than done.”

And Duvall dumped a quail into short center down for a base hit, scoring Ortega readily with Bader throwing home but well off and over the third base line, enabling Swanson to score the third run.

Only after walking Acuna did Martinez escape, getting Albies to line out to right. And after Freeman made a sensational extension to hold a wide throw from shortstop and keep his toe on first base to nail Kolten Wong opening, Paul Goldschmidt banked a double off the right field side wall off Melancon. But Ozuna looked at strike three on the inside corner and Molina flied out to center.

It gave the Braves their first postseason series lead in seventeen years and gave the Cardinals a reminder of what they might have really lost when Jordan Hicks, their originally assigned closer, having a solid season to that point, went down with Tommy John surgery in late June. Might.

Maybe a healthy Hicks keeps the Braves pinned in the ninth Sunday. Maybe he doesn’t. Two days after Martinez barely survived to keep a Cardinal win a win, he didn’t survive. And the Cardinals get to host the Braves for Game Four on the fiftieth anniversary of making the trade that helped change baseball.

It was 7 October 1969 when they traded center field mainstay Curt Flood to the Phillies. The trade Flood rejected for the reserve clause challenge that went all the way to the Supreme Court before losing—yet pushing open the door through which Hall of Famer Catfish Hunter and then Andy Messersmith would escort free agency’s advent.

Fifty years ago, too, the Miracle Mets shocked the world with their division, pennant, and World Series triumphs. Their golden anniversary team couldn’t stay the distance even toward a wild card game spot. The Cardinals have bigger stakes to play for on the Flood trade’s golden anniversary.

And a lot to make up for to Adam Wainwright, who’d love nothing more than one more postseason start at minimum. He won’t say he’ll retire after the Cardinals’ season ends; he won’t say he won’t, either.

“(I)n my mind, I’ve got two more series to pitch through, you know?” Wainwright said Sunday evening. “We got the NLCS (and) the World Series pitch through. But first we got to win (Monday). That’s where my head’s at right now. But no, I never once felt like today was it. Either we’ve got more games to win, or I’ve got more games to pitch.”

If his injuries over the years keep him from thinking about the Hall of Fame, Wainwright at least thinks the way a Hall of Famer does. Against a group of Braves who don’t know the meaning of the word surrender just yet, that attitude needs to rub off a lot more on the Cardinals now.