Protest by postponement

When Mookie Betts (far left) elected not to play in protest over Jacob Blake’s shooting by police, his Dodgers mates—including manager Dave Roberts (second from left) and pitchers Clayton Kershaw (second from right) and Kenley Jansen (far right)—had his back and joined him postponing against the Giants.

This is now: The Show’s government stood by teams postponing games Thursday in a show of respect to Jacob Blake, a young African-American man shot by rogue police, and quiet outrage over the manner in which Blake was shot. (Seven bullets in the back, with his children in sight in their car.)

But that was then: A Cincinnati Reds pitcher was hustled the hell out of Dodge for standing on behalf of not playing baseball during Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral. What a difference 52 years makes.

“Given the pain in the communities of Wisconsin and beyond following the shooting of Jacob Blake,” MLB’s official statement said Thursday, “we respect the decisions of a number of players not to play tonight. Major League Baseball remains united for change in our society and we will be allies in the fight to end racism and injustice.”

It could also have said plausibly that baseball stood athwart the grotesquery of Kyle Rittenhouse—a white teenager (seventeen), making his way from Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin, where violence and destruction reigned courtesy of those who seize upon genuine grief, rage, and sorrow as a beard to destroy—now accused of shooting two to death after his arrival.

Once the National Basketball Association’s Milwaukee Bucks stepped up front as the first professional sports team to decline play Thursday in protest over Blake’s shooting, and theirs was a playoff game, baseball teams who had yet to play on the day—several games had finished already or were well enough in progress—began to step up front as well.

The Milwaukee Brewers and the Reds postponed, particularly after Brewers relief star Josh Hader spoke publicly about the team considering it. Those who chose to condemn Hader a few years ago, after immaturely racist tweets in his school days surfaced, should ponder once again (if it occurred to them in the first place, when Hader apologised publicly) that, yes, mis-oriented youth can and often does mature into thoughtful adulthood.

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants postponed their Thursday night game after Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts, informing his teammates earlier in the day he had no intention of playing as a show of protest, discovered to his happy surprise (he’d encouraged the Dodgers to play anyway) that one and all his teammates had his back on that.

The Dodgers’ long-enough-time franchise face Clayton Kershaw took the lead on backing him. “Mookie was saying, ‘If you guys want to play, I support that’,” Kershaw said when asked. “But we made a collective, group decision to not play tonight and let our voices be heard for standing up for what is right.”

The Seattle Mariners elected as a team not to play Thursday night, and their scheduled opponents, the San Diego Padres, agreed no questions asked. “For me, and for many of my teammates,” tweeted Mariners infielder Dee Gordon, “the injustices, violence, death and systemic racism is deeply personal. This is impacting not only my community, but very directly my family and friends. Our team voted unanimously not to play tonight.”

Elsewhere around the Show individual players declined to play even if their teams went ahead and played, and none of those players looks to face retribution or team discipline for their decisions while their teammates mostly (not unanimously, alas) likewise supported their stance.

Paralyzed waist down by his wounds, Jacob Blake isn’t exactly a model citizen, alas. He had a knife on his car’s floorboard though not in his hands, and police were dispatched to the location after a woman’s call that her boyfriend (Blake) was present when enjoined formally against being there. He also had an arrest warrant upon him. Neither gave Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey the right to pump seven bullets into his back.

Wherever he is in the Elysian Fields, Miltiades Stergios Papastergios must be thinking to himself, “Slowly comes the dawn.” You know him if at all by his Americanised name, Milton Steven Pappas. In 1968, he took a stand similar to that taken by the aforementioned teams and players and refused to budge when circumstances altered the original plan. The Reds traded him post haste afterward, and nobody knew for certain whether that stance provoked it.

Milt Pappas became a Red, of course, in the infamous trade that sent Hall of Famer Frank Robinson to the Baltimore Orioles, where Pappas was once part of the Orioles’ heralded but ruined “Baby Birds” starting rotation full of fresh youth. He pitched serviceably if not spectacularly for the Reds but, with Robinson winning a Triple Crown in his first Baltimore season and continuing to play like his Hall of Famer self, it wouldn’t have mattered if Pappas was the second coming of Robin Roberts.

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in early April 1968, baseball’s Opening Day coincided with the day of King’s funeral. Baseball would have played fully if the Pittsburgh Pirates—with such non-white stars as Hall of Famers Roberto Clemente and Willie Stargell, plus former Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills—hadn’t refused to play. The Pirates triggered similar actions by other teams.

Baseball’s then-commissioner, William D. Eckert, was denounced for “calling up the club owners, not to tell them what to do, but to ask them” over the King funeral, wrote New York Daily News columnist Dick Young. But two months later former U.S. attorney general turned senator from New York, Robert F. Kennedy, freshly triumphant after winning California’s Democratic Party primary, was murdered after he left the stage at Los Angeles’s Ambassador Hotel on 6 June 1968.

With the Kennedy assassination, Eckert decreed no games should be played during Kennedy’s funeral. The man nicknamed Spike but derided previously as “the unknown soldier” (he was a retired Air Force general with no known previous baseball tie) proved he learned fast, even if he had to learn the hard way.

The Reds were scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals with a starting time well after the Kennedy funeral might have ended originally. Then, the funeral was delayed, after Washington’s notorious enough traffic issues delayed the funeral train’s procession. It looked as though the Reds and the Cardinals would play during the funeral after all.  Not so fast, Pappas insisted. He felt then and to the day he died four years ago that the game shouldn’t be played out of respect to Kennedy.

Reds manager Dave Bristol and general manager Bob Howsam felt the opposite. Howsam even visited the Reds clubhouse to pronounce that RFK himself would have wanted the game played. Pappas argued against playing right then and there. “Who is this guy, anyway,” Pappas told a reporter later on, “to tell us what Bobby Kennedy would have wanted us to do?”

The Reds’ players promptly took a team vote, some after having been strong-armed by Bristol, Howsam, or both. The vote was 13-12 in favour of playing. Pappas quit on the spot as the Reds’ player representative. Six games ended up postponed anyway despite the funeral delay. Three days later, in a deal Howsam swore was in the works before Kennedy’s assassination, he traded Pappas to the Atlanta Braves in a five-man swap making Reds out of fellow pitchers Tony Cloninger and Clay Carroll.

Baseball’s government, much like America’s, often has to learn the hard way about doing the right things as opposed to doing the expedient or the partisan things. There’s little to the appropriate causes monetarily as many do, other than symbolic acts that speak louder than rioters enough because their familiarity and popular appeal is powerful weight to throw above and beyond a game.

Those who think Thursday night’s players and team were out of line might care to ask what they’d prefer as a protest against rogue police and citizens alike—postponing baseball games and denouncing racism; or, breaking entire cities.

Was your cutout there? Bully!

Lucas Giolito, the big bully.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The cookie on second and Harvey Haddix

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Harvey Haddix on the mound 26 May 1959. Pitched this year, his perfecto bid would have been broken in the tenth, not the thirteenth . . .

Pittsburgh Pirates lefthanded pitcher Harvey Haddix became immortal for the perfect game he lost in extra innings on 26 May 1959. The Milwaukee Braves ended the perfecto and beat the Pirates in the bottom of the thirteenth, wrecking* one of the greatest single pitching performances in baseball history.

Braves infielder Felix Mantilla reached leading off on an error at third base. Hall of Famer Henry Aaron was handed an intentional walk. Braves first baseman Joe Adcock smashed what he only thought was no-hitter-ending/game-ending three-run homer; Aaron’s baserunning mistake—he thought the ball hit the wall for the game-ending hit and turned off the basepath toward the dugout after crossing second—got it ruled a single-RBI double.

Imagine if those teams could have played that game this season. Haddix’s perfecto bid could have been busted as soon as the tenth inning, thanks to that stupid new experimental rule (the minor leagues used it for the last three seasons) placing a free man on second to open each extra inning for each side.

In the actual Haddix game, both sides went scoreless in the tenth with only one base hit by the Pirates. Now, let’s imagine how that tenth inning goes if played this year and with the Pirates in the top and the Braves in the bottom getting the free cookie at second base to start their halves:

The actual top of the tenth saw the Pirates’ Hall of Fame second baseman Bill Mazeroski grounding out to second base to lead off, third baseman Don Hoak (whose actual thirteenth-inning error ruined the actual Haddix perfecto) swatting a base hit to left, pinch hitter Dick (Dr. Strangeglove) Stuart flying out to center field, and Haddix himself grounding out to second base.

This year, however, with the free cookie on second opening the frame, Mazeroski’s ground out pushes the cookie to third and Hoak’s base hit sends it home. 1-0, Pirates going to the bottom of the tenth.

The actual bottom of the tenth involved Braves pinch hitter Del Rice leading off with a fly out to deep center field and Hall of Fame third baseman Eddie Mathews flying out likewise to follow, before Aaron grounded out to Pirates shortstop Dick Schofield for the side.

Now, put the inning-opening cookie on second for the Braves. Rice’s fly would be deep enough for the cookie to advance to third, and Mathews would have a game-tying sacrifice fly. Assuming Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh lets Haddix stay in the game after the perfecto is broken and the game tied at one each, let’s move forward.

The actual top of the eleventh—Schofield opened for the Pirates with a base hit to left. Gazelle center fielder Bill Virdon forced Schofield out at second, and Pirates catcher/pinch-hitter extraordinaire Smoky Burgess hit into a double play. The cookie top of the eleventh—Assuming the free man on second swift afoot, Schofield’s leadoff single scores him, making it 2-1, Pirates.

And, oh yes. The runs are unearned because, if the inning-opening cookie scores under the new experiment, he’s considered to have reached on an error . . . but the error won’t be charged to the opposing team.

The actual bottom of the eleventh—Adcock grounded out to shortstop, Braves left fielder Wes Covington lined out to centerfield, and catcher Del Crandall flied out to center. The cookie bottom of the eleventh—The cookie on second wouldn’t go anywhere on Adcock’s grounder, unless he has a suicide complex. The liner to center would likely keep him there if he’s smart enough to know trying for third means death, too. And Crandall’s fly out would strand him.

The Pirates would win the game, 2-1, if played today. Harvey Haddix would be remembered for taking a perfect game into the mere tenth but pitching a no-hitter and winning. Anybody (sort of) can win a measly no-no in extra innings. (Ask Jim Maloney, the Cincinnati Reds pitcher who did it to the Cubs in a ten-inning, ten-walk, 1-0 no-no in Wrigley Field in 1965.)

It would also deprive Braves pitcher Lew Burdette—who went the distance and finally got the win—of the classic crack he actually gave his bosses during his actual next contract negotiation: That guy pitched the greatest game in baseball history and he still couldn’t beat me—so I must be the greatest pitcher who ever lived! That logic wouldn’t fly over a measly ten-inning perfecto break. (P.S. Burdette got his laugh—and his raise.)

“All I know is we lost,” Haddix said after the game. “What is so historic about that?”

In the event that another such perfect game bid goes to the tenth inning this year, you can only wonder what the pitcher making the attempt might think if his game ends the way it looks as though the Haddix game would end if played this year, under the free-man-on-second extra-inning rule.

And, whether you can publish more than half his answer without bleeps.

————————-

* The Haddix game also killed Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew’s shot at a Life cover story.

According to Storied Stadiums author Curt Smith, the magazine trailed Killebrew awhile until that day, hoping to capture the genial Washington Senator’s breathtaking power. Killebrew actually slumped during Life‘s pursuit, but then he finally hit one out on 26 May ’59.

The problem: Life got the word about what Haddix was trying to achieve, and the magazine ordered its Killebrew hounds to Milwaukee post-haste.

Eyes on Cherington from Pittsburgh?

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Ben Cherington (right), with Red Sox owner John Henry and the proof that Cherington knows how to raise shipwrecks: the Red Sox’s 2013 World Series triumph, for openers.

Few baseball fans are as frustrated as Pirate fans. Few deserve even a small ray of hope more. Pirate fans got one such ray when longtime Clint Hurdle was purged at last after a season in which he lost a clubhouse that seemed hell bent on destroying itself when it wasn’t pursuing silly field feuds.

They got another such ray of hope when the Pirates decided Hurdle’s execution was merely the wick lighting the powder keg of a near-complete front office house cleaning, which only began when pitching coach Ray Searage was pinked after a season during which the Pirate staff became too-much-reputed headhunters.

They got a third such ray when the house cleaning continued when president Frank Conolly and general manager Neal Huntington were purged, after a couple of years in which reputedly blockbuster deals blew up right in the Pirates’ faces even despite a warning sign or two.

And now comes a fourth such ray, in the word that candidates to be the Pirates’ next president of baseball operations include former Red Sox GM Ben Cherington.

Currently second in command to Blue Jays president Tony Lacava, Cherington is one man in baseball if there’s any such man who knows what it means to actually be able to raise and reconstruct the Titanic. He did it in New England, maybe the second most arduous baseball market for turning shipwrecks into cruises to the Promised Land.

The Red Sox hired Cherington in the first place after the 2011 season ended with the iceberg hitting the ship. His job only began when he was overruled at the top and the Red Sox hired Bobby Valentine to skipper the ship after Terry Francona—and Cherington’s predecessor Theo Epstein—abandoned it before they could be made to walk the plank.

Hiring Valentine proved the equivalent of removing Captain Smith from the bridge when the iceberg hit and installing Captain Queeg in his stead. Valentine took a clubhouse already full of noxious gases from the 2011 sinking and threw one after another lighted match into it. He was probably lucky that all he got was canned just days after the regular season ended.

Somewhere during the worst of that nightmare Cherington figured out that just because someone else dumped Smith for Queeg was no reason for him to go J. Bruce Ismay. He began repairing the ship even underwater, masterminding the August 2012 deal with the Dodgers that sent Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford out of Boston.

Major payroll surgery, that, the kind bringing the rookie GM what he’d need to augment his still-very-much-serviceable veterans with what I observed after the Valentine firing: “pieces that weren’t exactly top of the line but weren’t exactly losers, either.”

Cherington also got to dump Valentine, which could only have been his due after the rookie GM found himself as much company psychiatrist as boss when one after another player went to him seeking to keep their marbles—singular—during the depths of the Valentine nightmare. And he was the epitome of grace in throwing the switch:

Our 2012 season was disappointing for many reasons. No single issue is the reason, and no single individual is to blame. We’ve been making personnel changes since August, and we will continue to do so as we build a contending club. With an historic number of injuries, Bobby was dealt a difficult hand. He did the best he could under seriously adverse circumstances, and I am thankful to him.

You’d be hard pressed to find any other baseball general manager who could have been that diplomatic about a man who was lucky to escape with his life. It’s true the 2012 Red Sox were bedeviled by 27 trips to the disabled list, but it’s also true that four other 2012 teams (the Athletics, the Braves, the Orioles, the Yankees) were battered by injuries and still either won divisions (the A’s, the Yankees) or went to their leagues’ wild card games. (The Braves, the Orioles.)

The season recently ended gave further object lessons in how to navigate troubled waters when crews hit sick call almost en masse. Managed intelligently, they were the Yankees, the Astros, and (doesn’t it just roll off the tongue, Washington?) the world champion Nationals. Managed like several flew over the cuckoo’s nest, they were the 2012 Red Sox.

Then Cherington swung the deal that brought former Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell back from Toronto to manage the team for 2013. He imported such inexpensive pieces as Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Joel Hanrahan, Brock Holt, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Koji Uehara, and Shane Victorino.

He also picked up where Epstein left off in rebuilding the Red Sox farm. He watched Hall of Famer in waiting David Ortiz rally a team, a town, and a region after the Boston Marathon bombing. (This is our [fornicating] city!!) He re-fortified when injuries hit, and watched Uehara—whom he’d thought would be a perfect sixth- or seventh-inning relief option—step up as a lights-out closer.

And, he watched his freshly repaired team of savvy vets, comeback kids, and young sprouts refuse to lose more than three straight on the season and march all the way to the Promised Land for the third time since the new century began. It also made Cherington only the third Red Sox executive ever to be named The Sporting News‘s Executive of the Year.

The rebuild, which Cherington picked up and ramped up without even thinking about tanking? (Tanking’s never an option for a team whose owner learned what not to do and how not to do it watching the win-or-be-gone George Steinbrenner style, anyway.) Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Jr., all of whom loomed large in the 2018 World Series triumph, were Cherington recruits.

It was just a shame Cherington wasn’t around to savour it.

His only missteps were some free agency signings that blew up in the Red Sox’s faces: Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, A.J. Pierzynski, Grady Sizemore. When Dave Dombrowski accepted his Detroit walking papers and the Red Sox walked Cherington out to walk Dombrowski in, Cherington still left the Red Sox a solid nucleus that didn’t exactly escape Dombrowski’s sights in 2015.

Dombrowski signed and dealt for several nuggets of his own. He watched the Red Sox go last-to-first in 2016 and repeat in the East in 2017, both of which ended in early postseason exits. Then, after hiring Astros bench coach Alex Cora to manage the crew following Farrell losing the clubhouse at last, Dombrowski watched Cherington’s seeds flower fully as the Red Sox won last year’s World Series.

But Dombrowski reverted to form and drained McCherington’s Navy while ignoring the under-constructed, over-taxed bullpen as one after another 2019 Red Sox starter was hit by either injury or inconsistency bugs. Thus did the Red Sox execute Dombrowski in early September, when their season was too long lost.

And since the Red Sox didn’t reach out and bring Cherington back (they hired former Rays vice president Chaim Bloom), though it wouldn’t necessarily be either untenable or unheard-of (reference the 1967 Cardinals, who brought Bing Devine back successfully after canning him in mid-1964) the Pirates might want to give a long, serious, thoughtful look at him.

The Pirates’ sunken ship makes the Red Sox upon Cherington’s advent resemble a sturdy aircraft carrier by comparison. And if ever a team needed a man who can prove he knows how to raise a wreck from the bottom of the sea, the Pirates do.

The sordid case of Felipe Vasquez

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Pirates relief pitcher Felipe Vasquez. His ubiquitous tattoos helped identify him as a sex predator with at least one underage girl.

Let’s see. Either the Astros or the Braves will be the next team to clinch their division titles, and in theory they could do it on the same day, since they both awoke this morning with magic numbers of three. In theory.

The Astros have a better shot at doing it first since their remaining schedule is just a trifle easier than the Braves’. But remember Andujar’s Law: In baseball, there’s just one word—you never know. And the Astros’ main 2019 rivals for the best ratio of excellence to injury compromise or depletion, the Yankees, are a game from clinching their division.

I was wrong so far about the loss of Christian Yelich to the Brewers and their general manager David Stearns was right so far. I thought losing their by-far best player for the season last week meant a gut punch to their season. Stearns thought it was just a gut punch for the night. Stearns wins that argument.

Even if they did it against bottom feeders mostly, the Brewers are 6-1 since Yelich went down after fracturing his knee cap on his own foul off the plate. And they’re tied with the Cubs, who have their own issues, for the second National League wild card.

And I’m still rubbing my eyes over the fact that this year, too, as seems to happen too often in baseball’s wild card era, we’re watching all the thrills, chills, and spills of at least eight teams fighting to the last breaths to finish . . . in second or even third place.

As of this morning it’s still possible mathematically that the National League’s second wild card could be won by a team finishing third in its own division, and two teams (the Mets in the NL East; the Brewers in the NL Central) still have a shot at that. Which means, in theory, a third-place team could heat up enough to go to, if not win the World Series.

And even if the Giants and the Red Sox are out of the races, it was still a thrill Tuesday night when Mike Yastrzemski of the Giants—the grandson of the Red Sox’s Hall of Fame legend Carl Yastrzemski—confabbed with Grandpa on the field before the game at Fenway Park, then blasted one into the center field seats with two out in the top of the fourth.

But all the above gets knocked to one side upon the news that the best pitcher on major league baseball’s possible most fractured and fractuous team this year may be a sex criminal.

Bad enough that the Pirates’ clubhouse became a well known mess this season. Enough of a mess that two of the key culprits, relief pitchers Kyle Crick and Felipe Vasquez, had a clubhouse fight over Vasquez’s music that caused Crick a season-ending finger injury. Way worse is Vasquez arrested Tuesday in Pittsburgh, on Florida and Pennsylvania charges involving sexual misconduct with underage girls.

According to KDKA, CBS Pittsburgh, Vasquez is charged with “computer pornography–solicitation of a child and one count of providing obscene material to minors,” out of Lee County, Florida. Denied bail at his arraignment in Pittsburgh Tuesday—senior district judge Eilenn Conroy considered him a flight risk—he faces an extradition hearing a week from today.

Far more grave is what Pennsylvania State Police announced Tuesday evening, according to The Athletic: charges of statutory sexual assault, unlawful contact with a minor, corruption of a minor by a suspect eighteen or older, and indecent assault of a victim under sixteen.

Yardbarker reported this girl told officers she met Vasquez when she was thirteen and they kept in touch via text messages and other computer/phone apps. USA Today‘s Chris Bumbaca reported the girl’s mother “discovered the messages, two pictures and a video one week after they were sent to the victim on July 16. At that point, the mother told the suspect he was communicating with a minor. Police began an investigation on Aug. 8.”

Bumbaca added that Vasquez’s face wasn’t visible in the images but authorities identified him by way of his numerous and too-distinctive tattoos, and by the girl addressing him as Felipe during their text message exchanges.

“These allegations are very, very serious,” said Pirates pitcher Chris Archer, whose own season ended officially Sunday thanks to shoulder issues keeping him on the injured list since late August. “One term that was used earlier was heinous. Right now, as far as we know, they’re just allegations. There’s not a lot more we can say.”

There wasn’t? The Pirates wasted practically no time wiping Vasquez off the face of their earth before the Pirates hosted the Mariners at PNC Park Tuesday evening, The Athletic‘s Rob Biertempfel writes.

By game time, looking around the stadium, it was as if Vázquez had never played for the Pirates. His clubhouse locker was empty. His banner outside PNC Park had been taken down. His image was scrubbed from the scoreboard videos. His name was deleted from the list of National League save leaders that flashes on concourse monitors before the game. The scorebook magazines with Vázquez on the cover, which normally are handed out to fans as they enter the stadium, were stashed out of sight.

The Pirates informed the commissioner’s office almost at once and Vasquez was put on administrative leave and baseball’s restricted list. He’ll face worse if he’s tried and convicted. And that would still be nothing compared to what his victims and their loved ones have to come to terms with. They deserve your compassion and your prayers.

This isn’t just an athlete accused of and disciplined for domestic violence. This is one accused of having or seeking actual sexual activity with underage girls. ESPN’s Jeff Passan tweeted even more grating news this morning: “Police said . . . Vazquez admitted that he drove nearly an hour in 2017 to meet a 13-year-old girl and tried to have sex with her, according to a criminal complaint released today. After a failed attempt, Vazquez, then 26, left to go to a game, per the complaint.”

Only after 1980’s-1990s Cubs/Indians/Yankees/Giants outfielder Mel Hall’s career ended did we learn he spent much of his off-field career maneuvering 12- and 13-year-old girls into sexual activity. Those grotesque maneuverings continued after his career ended. Hall was finally arrested for rape in 2007 and sentenced to 45 years in prison in 2009.

Until now the worst thing that ever happened to the Pirates in legal terms (the absolute worst at all, of course, was Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente’s death in a 1972 plane crash) was probably six players testifying and facing discipline from then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth as part of the 1985 Pittsburgh drug trials.  Analysts observing the dissipation of this year’s Pirates and suggesting a housecleaning should come may want to amend that suggestion to a fumigation.

One of life’s saddest realities is that there are times, indeed, when a man can be accused falsely and wrongly of such sordid crimes as those with which Vasquez is charged. The evidence known thus far suggests he isn’t even close to one of those men.