Baseball Tease Day

Rafael Devers

Wings and prayers—Rafael Devers’s tiebreaking two-run blast in the ninth Sunday punched the Red Sox’s ticket to the AL wild card game . . .

Crisis addicts of the world, unite. You won’t get the greatest possible fix for your addiction on what might have been Baseball Chaos Day. In fact, you’re getting a day off for reasonably good behaviour.

But at least you get four of the game’s most deeply storied franchises in the wild card games. That’s something, isn’t it?

If major league baseball fans must continue to bear with the thrills and chills of watching teams fight to the last breath to finish . . . in second place, at least you get to see the Cardinals host the Dodgers in the National League wild card game, and the Red Sox host the Yankees in the American League game. Right?

I know. I know. The crisis junkies among baseball’s fans were spoiling for that National League West tie between the Giants and the Dodgers. They wanted that four-way American League wild card tie so badly they could wrap themselves in it like frozen food in Reynolds Wrap.

The Blue Jays did their absolute best to make it happen when they parboiled the Orioles 12-4 Sunday afternoon. But the Mariners let them down by being unable to get past what was left of this year’s Angels.

Maybe we should have had a hint when Shohei Ohtani started the finish of his surrealistic individual season by hitting Mariners lefthander Tyler Anderson’s third pitch of the game about twelve rows into the right field seats.

Home run number 46, RBI number 100, for the guy who also finishes 2021 with a 3.18 ERA and a 10.8 strikeout-per-nine rate on the mound. If you can’t win it, just start playing spoiler. Ohtani’s surreal season could have finished a lot worse than becoming the Angels’ must-see-television in the injury-created absence of their all-universe Mike Trout.

The Mariners let themselves down, too, after a surprise season of playing slightly over their own heads to get thatclose to postseason-opening mayhem. Those were real tears in young outfielder Jarred Kelenic’s eyes as well as veteran third baseman Kyle Seager’s, when their run came one port short in losing two of three to the Angels over the weekend.

“It wasn’t a team where we were just more talented than the other team every single day,” said Seager postgame, after what may yet prove his last game as a Mariner, “but you had a group that just collectively played together and they collectively tried to win every single night.”

Trouble was, the Nationals couldn’t keep the Red Sox down despite opening an early 5-1 lead against them in Nationals Park. They couldn’t stop Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers from hitting a hefty solo home run to open the top of the fourth and a five-all-tiebreaking two-run shot in the top of the ninth—with former National Kyle Schwarber, who’d reached on an inning-opening infield error—aboard ahead of him.

But two years after the Nats’ staggering World Series win, at least they could bask a little in the home crowd’s applause for possibly-retiring first baseman Ryan Zimmerman, the last truly Original Nat, the franchise’s first first-round draftee to play in their silks after moving from Montreal, when lifted from the game after the seventh. Even the Red Sox joined the applause unapologetically. Aretha Franklin used to spell that r-e-s-p-e-c-t.

Meanwhile, the American League East champion Rays battled the Yankees scoreless until the ninth. The Yankees even flashed something resembling past glories when third baseman Gio Urshela channeled his inner Derek Jeter in the sixth, chasing Austin Meadows’s foul pop 126 feet from an overshift position and catching it on the track, before he fell in a heap onto an empty spot on the Rays’ dugout bench.

But after Rays starter Michael Wacha pitched one-hit ball over five innings and the Yankees threw six pitchers at the Rays, Aaron Judge—the towering, snaggle-toothed, boyish-looking face of the Yankees—picked the right spot to deliver the first walk-off winner of his major league career.

With Rays reliever Andrew Kittredge freshly installed, after Josh Fleming allowed second and third with one out, Judge ripped a liner off Kittredge’s glove toward second, Tyler Wade dove home ahead of a throw from Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe. Thus the Yankees ducked a coming day’s chaos. “I wouldn’t say we exhaled,” Judge said of it postgame. “We still have work to do.”

Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the Padres’ second-half implosion finished when they all but rolled over and played dead for most of an 11-4 loss to the Giants. Enabling the Giants to become the first in Show ever to win their 107th regular season game while clinching a title on the regular season’s final regular day. Leaving the Dodgers, 10-3 assassins over the NL Central-winning Brewers, to deal with the Cardinals in the league’s wild card game.

That ages-old blood feud between the Giants and the Dodgers would just have to wait for a possible showdown in a National League division series, assuming the Dodgers get past a Cardinals aggregation that managed to do what enough teams couldn’t this year—shake off a few serious injuries and a few tough spells to get to at least the postseason’s entry game.

The Padres made life just a little too simple for the Giants Sunday afternoon. They had no answer for Giants starter Logan Webb—who struck out eight and, at the plate, threw in a line drive, insult-to-injury two-run homer in the fifth—until they finally chased him with three straight base hits in the eighth.

Entering the season it sometimes seemed as if the Padres were anointed the lords of the National League West by default and the Giants were anointed lucky to survive the races at all. But while growing pains, internal dissensions, key pitching injuries, and manager Jayce Tingler’s exposure as an inconsistent in-game thinker came more vivid as the Padres season went deeper, the Giants surprised just about the entire baseball world with their ability to hang with the Dodgers and take it literally to the last day.

Veteran or largely-veteran teams don’t work anymore, right? Baseball’s for the young, right? Letting the kids play means the veterans can’t romp, right? The Giants would like a few words with you. Their veterans played up and had just as much fun as the kiddie corps. And the Giants took their remarkable season right down to the wire to beat the Dodgers out for the title by one game.

“I think we all knew at the beginning of the season, or even dating back to the beginning of spring training, what the projections are and what the industry sort of thought of us as a club,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler, who’d finally figured out what he couldn’t in Philadelphia—analytics hoists and supports you going in, but you’d better marry that to what’s in front of you inning by inning if you want to get the full job done.

“What I realized,” he continued, “is there are some intangibles that those projections and viewpoints failed to take into consideration.” There’s never a thing wrong with having the most possible information to open a game, but when it’s married unsuccessfully to the moments to come while you play, the offspring is usually disaster.

The Giants, the Brewers, the AL Central-winning White Sox, the Astros, and the NL East-winning Braves have to wait to begin their postseason dances. It’s both poetic and problematic that the party begins with the Olde Towne Team hosting the Empire Emeritus in a win-or-be-gone wild card game.

Poetic because of that similarly ages-old Yankee-Red Sox blood feud. Problematic because of . . . that ages-old feud having its script flipped in this century.

Go ahead and point to all those pennants and World Series rings, Yankee fan. You’ve only got one of those rings to show in the 21st Century. You may have the upper hand in division triumphs but that smothering Yankee dominance is just so 20th Century now. That’s the Red Sox sitting with four 21st Century World Series rings now.

If there’s one other thing by which the Yankees hold an edge over the Red Sox this time around, it’s a fan base that clings to “To err is human, to forgive cannot be Yankee policy” like a religious catechism. Calling for the manager’s perp walk and summary execution after a tough loss? Yankee manager Aaron Boone gets it after a tough inning as often as not.

The man who did what no Yankee manager before him could—lead his teams to back-to-back 100-wins-or-more seasons in his first two on the bridge—and has a .601 winning percentage as a Yankee manager must feel fortunate that his boss’s name is Hal, not George Steinbrenner. Hal Steinbrenner doesn’t have his father’s notorious hair trigger. It’s saved New York’s sanitation corps from barrels worth of washing blood from the streets around the House That Ruthless Built.

Maybe their own long-enough and disastrous enough history has finally given Red Sox Nation what some people thought would have been impossible to fathom—the patience of Job—compared to their counterparts turning to the south Bronx. The AL wild card game hasn’t been played yet, of course, but you don’t exactly hear Red Sox fans saying, to themselves and aloud, “OK, when’s it going to happen” and mean disaster over delight before the game actually begins.

Those two fan bases get only one day’s worth of living on the edge. If the Dodgers treat the Cardinals’ grand old man Adam Wainwright like target practise in the NL wild card game, the Dodger-Giant rivalry gets three games minimum, five maximum to go nuclear.

If the Cardinals treat the Dodgers’ cleverly imported grand old man Max (The Knife) Scherzer rudely, Giantland and Cardinal Country get to relive the 2014 disaster—disaster for the Cardinals, that is. This time, though, the Cardinals won’t have Mike Matheny on the bridge to decide The Book was more important than The Moment. Mike Schildt won’t risk paying through the feathers by allowing a Giant pennant to sail into the crowd atop Levi’s Landing behind right field. I think.

It’s enough to make you feel almost sorry for the White Sox facing the Astros in an American League division series. Even their first postseason meeting since the 2005 World Series the White Sox swept—that was before the Astros were traded to the American League, of course—doesn’t have half the blood boil potential. I think.

Baseball Chaos Day? Sunday’s regular season finales amounted more to Baseball Tease Time. It was fun to watch—but it was hell to pay. But as Hall of Fame scribe Jayson Stark would say, because . . . baseball!

Accountability isn’t dead, entirely

Emilio Pagan

Emilio Pagan, relief pitcher, avatar of self-accountability.

When players hold themselves accountable, not ducking the harder questions, it’s admirable and—to enough people—rare enough. When a player willing to hold himself accountable seeks to do so without being asked first, that’s not just somewhat out of the standard box, it ought to give him some kind of share of some kind of prize.

Case in point: Emilio Pagán, Padres relief pitcher. In a game meaning nothing to the Padres anymore but everything to the Dodgers Wednesday night, the Dodgers bludgeoned Pagán and fellow bullpen bull Nabil Crismatt for five home runs—Pagan for three, Crismatt for two.

All when the Padres entered the bottom of the eighth holding a nice 9-6 lead including battering Max Scherzer, of all people, for six runs in six innings. The inning ended with the Dodgers leading 11-9, holding on to win by that score Wednesday night, and the Padres wondering further just when things like a disconnect between the clubhouse and the front office would be redressed.

Pagán got torn back-to-back by Max Muncy and A.J. Pollock, then by Cody Bellinger one out later, to tie the game. Crismatt got pounded for the one that mattered, Corey Seager’s two-out, two-run shell into the right field bleachers to yank the Dodgers ahead. Some thought that eighth-inning meltdown was too emblematic of the Padres’ seasonal dissipation.

They were supposed to win the West this year, right? They were anointed World Series champions in waiting this year, by enough commentators, right? They had the hottest young star in baseball this side of Shohei Ohtani, a solid pitching staff, and were just itching to lay the division to waste, if not the league, right? That’s what you all heard too much of coming out of spring training, right?

Didn’t happen. And while plenty of teams had to find ways around the ferocious enough injury bugs this year, the Padres couldn’t and didn’t, if not wouldn’t.

They became testy in the clubhouse as the season went forward. Enough players reportedly became more disillusioned with oft-overwhelmed manager Jayce Tingler. Enough became just as dismayed by seemingly half-connected general manager A.J. Preller, whose reputed genius at scouting and building was undermined this year by failures at true fortification at the trade deadline and a sense that he’s out of touch with his clubhouse, willfully or otherwise.

So when Pagán buttonholed San Diego Union-Tribune writer Kevin Acee, Acee was only too willing to listen and write. The righthander who surrendered the home run that just about killed what remained of the Padres’ season in St. Louis—Tyler O’Neill’s two-run blast in the bottom of the eighth on 18 September—had more to say.

He’s said in the recent past how nice it is to be part of a team as talented as the Padres actually are. But now, by holding himself up to task, he implied without saying that such talented teams should be just as accountable above and beyond the real issues beyond their control.

“We scored nine runs in a game that Max Scherzer starts,” Pagán told Acee. “You’ve got to win that game. I mean, plain and simple. I love this game too much to not look at the numbers and not look at the results like I’ve got to take some of this. I can’t just be upset, I’ve got to look at it and grow from it and come into next series, next season a better pitcher.”

Acee indicated the two spoke after Pagán reviewed video of his outing, asked coaches whether he was tipping pitches, pondered trying to develop a third pitch during the offseason, and lamented that he felt his pitches were both getting better in the season’s second half but he was “getting my teeth kicked in. So it hasn’t been a lot of fun.

“I’m going to look at everything because, as laughable as this comment is, I’m just too good for this,” Pagán continued. “I know type of talent that I can be on the mound. Unfortunately for the San Diego Padres organization I haven’t been what I can. And that’ll change. If I’m kept around, I will get better. I don’t know if I’ve been this angry in a long time at my individual performance on a baseball field, so I’ll get better. I care about this game too much to not get better.”

A 2.31 ERA for the 2019 Rays suggests Pagán can still fix whatever went wrong for him this season. An attitude such as he showed in seeking Acee out before the scribe could seek and question him first suggests wisdom beyond his 30 years.

“In these times of pandemic-induced postgame zooms,” Acee wrote, “the media often does not get to immediately speak to players involved in key plays. But Pagán, being both a veteran who has been around when clubhouses have been open and an honorable man, was willing to face questions before I could even ask if he would.”

Preller seems to leave somewhat different and contradictory impressions, according to Athletic writers Ken Rosenthal, Dennis Lin, and Eno Sarris:

The combination of an untested manager, veteran coaches with strong personalities and prominent players with strong personalities has sometimes proven volatile. A pair of confrontations in the dugout two weeks ago . . . attracted national attention, but according to sources, there have been an unusual number of heated moments this season, including when the Padres were well above .500. Some of the same sources have questioned whether front-office executives have enough empathy for those navigating complex situations inside the clubhouse.

“I don’t think (Preller) feels that at all,” said one former coach.

If there’s a further shakeup in the Padres’ offseason to come, it seems as though few would be surprised. If a new, more experienced and attuned manager is on the priority list, it may be easier said than done bringing aboard someone else Preller may or may not think he can command at will.

Whomever it proves to be, he’ll have at least one veteran relief pitcher on board with the concept and the continuing practise of accountability.

Short of the track, short of the Giants

Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Tatis destroyed a hanging slider for homer number 40 in the seventh Wednesday night, but he couldn’t quite walk it off in the ninth, though not for lack of effort . . .

Fernando Tatis, Jr. started the Padres’ Wednesday night comeback attempt when he hit one out with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Why shouldn’t he have wanted to finish it by way of a game-winning blast with two on in the bottom of the ninth?

The National League’s leading home run hitter this year so far gave the Giants’ righthanded submariner Tyler Rogers’s climbing slider a high ride to Petco Park’s deep left. Even Giants broadcasters Duane Kuiper and Mike Krukow thought it was likely to go and the Padres were likely to win.

Except that it didn’t, and they didn’t. That’s been the Padres’ story in the season’s second half. Minutes late and dollars short.

The drive hung up just enough to fall short enough and into the waiting glove of Kris Bryant, playing left near the track for the Giants, snapping the ball shut to end an 8-6 Giants win that looked like a blowout in the making after six and a half innings.

“I wish I could celebrate in a different story,” Tatis said post-game, “but it’s been a long year, a lot of ups and downs, especially coming back from those injuries. At the end of the day, I’m pretty happy with the results and how I bounced back and this is history. It’s something to celebrate.”

He’d had to recover from a couple of shoulder injuries to become only the tenth man in Show history to hit forty homers or more in a season before his 22nd birthday. He might celebrate history, but he probably would have celebrated a Padres win more.

Every Giant fan in the house—there were plenty making the trek to San Diego, especially the group of orange-clad elders known as the Game Geezers—should thank Rogers for delivering the narrow escape. They should thank rookie Giants reliever Camilo Doval even more profoundly for the one he delivered in the bottom of the fifth.

One of the Giants’ soon-to-be-fabled retreads, lefthanded starting pitcher Scott Kazmir, ran into big trouble after delivering four innings of one-run ball that weren’t exactly on the virtuoso side but weren’t exactly on the weak side, either. But he walked Victor Caratini on a full count, surrendered a base hit to pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick, and walked Tatis on four straight.

Then Giants catcher Buster Posey made a might-have-been grave mistake. He got his glove out far enough to catch a piece of Jake Cronenworth’s bat as Cronenworth slashed a foul down the left field line. The interference call brought Caratini home, kept the bases loaded, and told manager Gabe Kapler Kazmir had had it for the night.

He brought Doval into the impossible nightmare. Ducks on the pond, nobody out, and Manny Machado checking in at the plate. This can be something comparable to trying to bring a Boeing 747 home without a scratch, bump, or crash after three of the four engines blow.

Doval attacked Machado as though he was just playing catch with Posey. Three hard, quivering sliders that didn’t get anywhere near the middle of the plate. Three hard, hell-bent swings on each of which Machado looked as though he wanted to send his mates on the bases around the horn twice on one drive. Then, Doval wrestled Tommy Pham into dialing Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.

Even the Padres’ faithful had to appreciate that kind of narrow-escape, safe landing, which Kapler called “one of the gutsier performances of the year from anybody in our pen.”

The irony of Caratini scoring on catcher’s interference wasn’t necessarily lost on anyone. It was Caratini’s glove touching Tommy La Stella’s bat, as LaStella fouled one high down the left field line opening the game, that put La Stella aboard and began Padres starter Vince Velasquez’s three-run nightmare, giving the Giants the extremely early lead in the first place.

Velasquez wasn’t exactly sharp in the first place. Not after starting Brandon Belt 0-2 and finishing by walking him, then throwing a 1-1 jammer that Posey somehow fisted into a balloon shot into short right center to load the pads.

He might have wrestled Lamonte Wade, Jr. into an eight-pitch strikeout, but Bryant nailed him for a bases-clearing double off the right center field wall, before Brandon Crawford pushed Bryant to third with a fly out to the back of center and Evan Longoria struck out swinging for the side.

La Stella’s no stranger to catcher’s interference. It happened to him twice in one game, as a Cub, on 7 June 2018, making him only the seventh player to benefit thus. Then-Phillies catcher Andrew Knapp’s mitt touched his bat twice—in the first, when he grounded one back to pitcher Nick Pivetta; and, in the eighth, against reliever Adam Morgan, when Knapp’s mitt hit the bat as La Stella fouled one off. But neither one figured in that game’s scoring, the Cubs beating the Phillies by a run.

The game ended up thickening the Giants’ National League West lead to two games with the Dodgers getting slapped silly, 10-5, by the Rockies in Coors Field. The Rockies’ season burial isn’t wholly official yet; the Padres still have a very outside, very slim wild card hope.

Kazmir, last seen among the silver medalists on the U.S. Olympic baseball team earlier this summer, pitched like an elder looking for one more season in the sun and finding various ways to justify it. He pitched into and out of trouble in the bottom of the second, turning a one-out single (Eric Hosmer), a two-out ground-rule double (Trent Grisham), and then offered evidence for the defense in favour of making the designated hitter universal.

Caratini came to the plate with Padres relief pitcher Ryan Weathers due to bat next. DH partisans often cite the frequent National League pitchers’ cop-out, described best by Thomas Boswell when recalling the “thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the [American League], you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Kazmir threw Caratini two so-obviously weak changeups, then handed Caratini first on the house. Then he got Weathers to ground one to Crawford at short for the inning-ending force out. Exactly why the Giants thought that dangerous .215-hitting Caratini was liable to tie the game with one swing—he’s hit as many home runs over five years as Tatis hit by 15 June this year—escapes.

And exactly why the Padres didn’t think to pinch hit for Weathers escapes as well, particularly with known Giant-puncturer Adam Frazier (he’s hit .365 against them this year) on the bench for the evening. Casey Stengel once believed that when you have an opening, you shove with your shoulder. Padres manager Jayce Tingler forgot he had a shoulder (and enough decent bullpen still) with which to shove.

Until Kazmir ran into that fifth inning trouble, he kept the Padres mostly off balance from there, while Weathers and his successor Ross Detwiler kept the Giants mostly quiet until yielding to converted-from-shortstop Javy Guerra for the top of the sixth.

Oops. Posey lined the first pitch down the right field line, falling in fair to lead off with a double. Wade swatted a full-count sinker up the middle for first and third. Bryant grounded out to Hosmer playing first, but Crawford slapped an opposite-field single to left to send Posey home.

One Longoria strikeout and pitching change to Nabil Crismatt later, Mike Yastrzemski singled Wade home with a base hit right back up the pipe, before pinch hitter Wilmer Flores flied out to right to keep things 5-1, Giants.

Crismatt ended up really taking one for the team in the seventh. He handed La Stella a four-pitch leadoff walk, and Belt promptly hit the first pitch he saw for a line single into right. Then Posey lined a 1-2 changeup the other way down the right field line again, sending La Stella home. Wade doubled Belt and Posey home before going down trying to steal. Bryant grounded out to first, but Crawford shot a single past third before Longoria struck out for the third time on the night.

That made it 8-1, Giants. Then, with one out against Giants reliever Jarlin Garcia, Tatis fought back from 0-2, caught hold of a hanging slider on 2-2, and drove it into the left field seats. Cronenworth promptly doubled to the back of right field and Machado sent a hard liner over the hole at short to send Cronenworth home.

Exit Garcia, enter Domonic Leone, and Pham’s first-pitch liner the other way to right loaded the pads for the Padres again. But all they had to show for that was Hosmer poking a single up the middle to send Machado home, before Wil Myers struck out and Grisham slapped his way into an inning-ending force out at second.

Going 3-for-12 with men in scoring position wasn’t exactly the way to overthrow the Giants. Things weren’t helped any for the Padres when Crawford made an acrobatic spin and grab of a Myers grounder that had one-out base hit stamped on it, Crawford throwing Myers out off balance but right on the button for the second out of the fourth.

Against the submarining Rogers in the ninth, Pham worked a leadoff walk and Hosmer hit a ground-rule double to send him to third. Finally the Padres sent Frazier to the plate to pinch hit, and he pushed Pham home while grounding out to second, before Grisham singled Hosmer home with the sixth Padre run.

After Caratini flied out to left, up came Tatis. He wanted to hit that three-run homer so badly the entire ballpark could taste it. Especially after he opened with a foul out of play to the right side. Then Rogers’s slider climbed up to the middle of the zone somewhat away from Tatis. Tatis swung as if his and the Padres’ lives depended on it.

It wasn’t enough.

Things haven’t been enough for the reeling Padres since the middle of August. And just as they were about to lose their fifth straight and eleventh in fourteen games, general manager A.J. Preller continued an apparent organisational shakeup—shuffling assorted farm system roles two days after firing seven-year farm director Sam Geaney.

The Padres have gone from Preller’s inability to fortify a decimated starting rotation (they failed spectacularly at the trade deadline after the world only thought they’d bag Max Scherzer) to Tingler’s apparent inability to keep his clubhouse consistently steady. They’re already thinking wait till next year in San Diego. Next year, and maybe a new manager.

For the Giants the season’s going to end up with them finishing what they started, taking hold of their division and holding on no matter the overqualified Dodgers snapping at their heels. Those two antagonists could end up squaring off in a postseason set that’s liable to do what earthquakes can’t—blow the Richter scale to bits.

It’s a Gaus, Gaus, Gaus—sort of

Kevin Gausman

Kevin Gausman isn’t exactly swinging into McCovey Cove here—and he needed a little help from his friend sliding home head first to win Friday night.

Look, I don’t want to be a spoil sport. OK, maybe I do. A little. But anyone getting any ideas about celebrating Giants pitcher Kevin Gausman’s game-winning pinch loft Friday night as evidence against the universal designated hitter . . .

Seriously?

It’s not as though it meant the National League West for the re-tread Giants. They’d already nailed a postseason berth days before. It’s not as though Gausman was the best pinch-hitting option available to manager Gabe Kapler in the bottom of the eleventh with the bases loaded, one out, and relief pitcher Camilo Doval due up.

And, it’s not as though Braves reliever Jacob Webb threw him something with a nasty enough dance to the plate that the biggest boppers in the National League would have had trouble keeping time and step with it.

So come on. Let’s have a little fun with the home crowd in Oracle Park booing the hapless Gausman—who’s actually in the back of this year’s Cy Young Award conversation, having a splendid season on the mound (he woke up this morning with a 2.78 ERA, a 2.88 fielding-independent pitching rate, a 4.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 10.7 strikeouts-per-nine rate)—because they had no clue Kapler was clean out of position players to send to the plate.

Let’s have a little more fun than that with Webb and Gausman midget-mud-wrestling the count from 1-2 to a full count, because Webb couldn’t find the zone with a search party and a bloodhound and because the Braves handed Evan Longoria and Donovan Solano free passes to load the pads in the first place.

Let’s have a little more fun than that with the Oracle crowd going from lusty booing to standing-O cheering after Webb pumped and delivered a 3-2 meatball that had so much of the zone a real hitter could have turned it into a walk-off grand slam while looking over his shoulder at Brandon Belt in the Giants’ on-deck circle.

But let’s give ourselves a reality check. Gausman’s loft to Braves right fielder Joc Pederson didn’t exactly push Pederson back to the edge of the warning track. It landed in Pederson’s glove while he took a couple of steps forward in more or less shallow positioning.

Shallow enough that the game missed going to the twelfth by about a foot south, on what might have been an inning-ending double play. Except that Brandon Crawford—who’d opened the inning as the free cookie on second and took third on Webb’s wild pickoff throw—had to beat Pederson’s throw home by sliding head first to the plate.

Crawford would have been dead on arrival if he hadn’t taken the dive and traveled beneath Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud whirling around for the tag that would have gotten the veteran Giants shortstop squarely even if he’d dropped into a standard slide. Even Gausman knows he had a better chance at breaking the land speed record aboard a Segway than there was of him walking it off.

“More than anything,” he said in the middle of his did-I-do-that postgame, “I was trying to not look ridiculous, just take good swings, swing at strikes. Obviously I never would have thought I would have got in that situation coming to the ballpark today.”

Not with a .184/.216/.184 slash line entering Friday night’s follies. Not with a lifetime .036 hitting average entering this season, despite having a reputation as the Giants pitcher with the best bat control at the plate. Not with tending to go the other way when he does connect on those very rare occasions. “Um, well, that’s the first time I’ve pulled a ball,” he said post-game. “Like, in the big leagues.”

Thanks to the rule that says a sacrifice fly doesn’t count as an official at-bat, Gausman’s loft actually cost him four points on his on-base percentage.

The game got to the extras in the first place because, after d’Arnaud himself hit one into the left field seats with two aboard and one out to overthrow a 4-2 Giants lead in the top of the ninth, another Giants pinch-hitter—Solano, hitting for earlier pinch-hitter/outfield insertion Mike Yastrzemski—hit a two-out, 2-2 service from Braves reliever Will Smith only a few feet away from where d’Arnaud’s blast landed.

After not having swung the bat in a major league plate appearance in three weeks, thanks to a turn on the COVID list, Solano at least entered a record book. His game-tyer meant the Giants have hit a franchise-record sixteen pinch-hit bombs this season, and possibly counting.

Gausman, on the other hand, is only the third pitcher in the Giants’ San Francisco era to win a game with a pinch swing. He joins Don Robinson (bases-loaded pinch single, 1990) and Madison Bumgarner (pinch single, 2018) without a base hit for his effort.

The way the Giants have played this year, cobbled together like six parts Clyde Crashcup and half a dozen parts Rube Goldberg, nobody puts anything past them now.

Gausman is respected as one of the nicer guys in the game. Before Friday night’s contest the Bay Area chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America handed him their Bill Rigney Award for cooperation with the Bay Area press. “He’s been terrific, including during some trying times with his family,” said the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Susan Slusser announcing the award presentation.

But he didn’t really do any anti-DH people any real favours after all. He hasn’t augmented any legitimate case for keeping any pitchers swinging the bat any further than this year. The best thing you can say for his Friday night flog is that he connected. He ought to buy Crawford steaks for the rest of the season for sliding astutely.

This year’s pitchers at the plate woke up this morning with a whopping collective .110/.150/.142 slash line and an absolutely jaw-dropping .291 OPS. They’re also leading the league in wasted outs (388 sacrifice bunts), with the next-most-prolific such among the position players being the shortstops. (55.)

Now, for the money shot. Belt is one of the National League’s more consistent hitters this season. He took a .942 OPS into Friday night’s game. He whacked a two-run homer to vaporise a Giants deficit in the first inning. With one out, would any sane manager ask a pitcher to do anything more than stand at the plate like a mannequin, with a bat like that waiting on deck to hit with ducks on the pond?

Kapler’s living the proverbial charmed life. As a player, he was a member of the 2004 Red Sox who finally won their first World Series since the Spanish flu pandemic. He wasn’t exactly one of those Red Sox’s big bats, but he was a late-Game Four insertion as a pinch runner, with then-manager Terry Francona letting him hang around in right field as the Red Sox nailed the Series sweep in the ninth.

As the Dodgers’ director of player development in 2015, Kapler got away with a feeble response at best, when a couple of Dodger minor leaguers were accused plausibly of videotaping an assault by two young women against a third, plus sexual misconduct involving a player’s hand down the victim’s panties. The team elected not to report it to the commissioner’s office or to the police—and he didn’t go over their heads to do so, either.

Then, Kapler was run off the Phillies bridge because, in two seasons, he couldn’t marry his analytical bent to the live situations in front of him and the Phillies ended up three games under .500 total with him on their bridge.

Now, he has the bridge of the National League West leaders fighting tooth, fang, claw, and charm against those pesky Dodgers with a two-game division lead and fourteen games left. He’d better not get too comfortable emptying his bench again any time soon. His pitchers are only hitting .081 this season. And they won’t always have Crawford on third to bail them out in a pinch.

Salami on special at the Slam Diego Deli

Rookie Jake Cronenworth joined the Padres’ grand slam parade Saturday.

A spectre may be haunting major league baseball—the spectre of San Diego. The Padres, usually renowned for a checkered history, lots of ugly uniforms, a handsome ballpark where hitters usually go to die, and a seeming genius for watching as many as three top-of-the-line players depart for every one or two they could find. Rudely interrupted by a couple of pennants.

That was then and this is now: The Padres now wear uniforms that are passable, if unlikely to put them on the best-dressed men’s lists. They make the right headlines in the press and hash in the National League West and elsewhere. They also make hash out of the National League leader board, where you’ll find them as of this morning at the top for total bases, stolen bases, walks, slugging, OPS, and home runs.

Previous generations of baseball’s big bopping teams have earned colourful nicknames: The Bronx Bombers, the Pittsburgh Lumber Company, Harvey’s Wallbangers. To those add now Slam Diego. These Poundres don’t just hit home runs, they hit conversation pieces. Especially with the bases loaded. The Slam Diego Deli is the Show’s first to grind salami on special in four consecutive games.

When rookie shortstop Jake Cronenworth saw and raised center fielder Trent Grisham’s three homers in a Saturday burial of the Houston Astros by slamming Astros reliever Humberto Castellanos, it was the fifth San Diego slam in six games while they were at it.

The 13-2 win was also the Padres’s sixth straight win overall and raised their record in interleague play to 6-0 so far. These are not your grandfather’s, your father’s, or even your big brother’s Friar Ducks. Sitting, that is.There’s nothing like a not-so-little beatdown laid upon last year’s American League pennant winner to redeem a five-game losing streak that ended when the Poundres flattened the Texas Rangers 14-4 last Monday.

That just so happened to be the same game in which the Slam Diegans’s gigastar-in-the-making, Fernando Tatis, Jr., provoked this year’s first major debate over the Sacred Unwritten Rules—when he faced Juan Nicasio in the top of the eighth, with the bases loaded, one out, a 3-0 count, and a 10-3 Padres lead in Globe Life Hangar, and hit something too meaty to resist over the right field fence.

Baseball’s boring old farts screamed about Tatis’s lack of manners. Rangers manager Chris Woodward, who harrumphed after the game about how offensive Tatis was for daring to swing 3-0 late in the middle of a blowout, lifted Nicasio for Ian Gibaut, who threw right behind Manny Machado’s rump roast immediately to follow.

The problem was that, this time, most of baseball applauded Tatis and decided the SURs a) were patent nonsense and b) don’t cover when a hitter as good as Tatis is fed something Ray Charles could have hit for distance. Apparently, so did Commissioner Nero, suspending Gibaut three games.

The further problem, once Padres manager Jayce Tingler got over his own dismay at Tatis violating the SURs, is that the whole hoo-ha just put rocket fuel into the Padres at the plate. The following night, they could only muster a 6-4 win over the Rangers but Wil Myers joined the deli crew in the top of the first, with the bases loaded and two out, clearing the left center field fence and staking the Pads to an immediate 4-0 lead.

The night after that, back in Petco Park, the Padres and the Rangers wrestled to a tenth inning ted at two. After the Rangers snuck an unearned run home in the top of the tenth, Machado checked in with the bases loaded on the free cookie at second to start their bottom of the tenth, a dubious-enough sacrifice bunt (sorry, I still say you don’t give outs to the other guys, especially with a man in scoring position gifted you), and back-to-back walks.

Machado re-opened the Slam Diego Deli by hitting a full-count meatball over the left center field fence. The night after that, Eric Hosmer checked in with one out, the Padres in the hole 2-1, and the pads padded on two base hits and a walk. Hosmer nailed Rangers starter Kyle Gibson with a drive down the right field line and into the seats. The Padres needed every morsel of that salami even more this time; they had to build and then hold on for the 8-7 win.

When they beat the Astros 4-3 Friday night, there may have been some wags thinking the Padres were on the threshold of disaster. The deli stayed closed. The Padres didn’t even load the bases once against five Astros pitchers. Don’t tell us the magic was gone before we really had a fair shot at it sinking in at maximum depth.

Thank God for Cronenworth. Be so [fornicating] glad the Poundres have Cronenworth. In the bottom of a second inning that began with a 2-1 lead and already added five runs on a leadoff bomb (Myers), a three-run homer (Grisham), and an RBI single (Ty France), Cronenworth tore into a Castellanos fastball on 3-1 and tore it over the right field fence.

“It’s somebody different every single night stepping up,” Cronenworth said after the Saturday night massacre. “Grish has three home runs tonight, Manny hit a home run tonight, Wil [Myers] hit a home run tonight, [starting pitcher] Zach Davies had an incredible outing. It started with him shutting their offense down and getting us back in the dugout as quick as possible.”

Don’t ask about his turn behind the San Diego Deli counter, though. The bad news is that the kid has the boilerplate mastered: “Put a good swing on a good pitch. Just keep my approach up the middle. Just happened to put a good swing on it.” Thank you, Friar Obvious.

Institutionally, the Padres have a few reasons to thank the Astros. It was the Astros who got them into San Diego in the first place, after that lovely city by the harbour and the Pacific hosted the Pacific Coast League Padres for generations. (Including a local kid named Ted Williams playing his minor league ball there, in the era when the PCL was the a major league in everything but name.)

The National League’s second expansion intended for Montreal and Dallas to have new teams. The Astros’s founding owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz, banged a gavel and said, “Not so fast, buster.” Hofheinz would rather have blown the Astrodome to smithereens than sanctioned a rival team playing a hop, skip, and bronco-busting bull’s jump up the road from (as then-Yankee first baseman Joe Pepitone called it) the world’s biggest hair dryer.

So the National League’s lords relented and, with no little help from Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley—who needed a place to dump his general manager Buzzie Bavasi, when O’Malley son and heir Peter was ready to graduate to the Dodgers’ front office—what was meant for Dallas ended up by the southern California seas.

Once upon a time, another Padres owner, Ray Kroc (McDonald’s mastermind and magnate), took to his own public address system to commiserate with fans over “the stupidest baseball playing I’ve ever seen.” Who the hell needs a Big Mac when you’re running the National League’s least-expected delicatessen lately?