Mistakes don’t equal murder

Will Craig, Javier Baez

Will Craig, after taking the errant throw pulling him down the first base line and into unexpected infamy . . .

“I guess I’m going to be on the blooper reels for the rest of my life,” said Pirates first baseman Will Craig last Friday, before the team’s game with the Rockies was postponed by rain. And, the day after Cubs shortstop Javier Baez deked him and his into a third-inning rundown that looked like the year’s funniest television moment in the moment.

It wasn’t all that funny in retrospect when Joe and Jane Fan plus Joke and Jerk Sportswriter/Talk Show Commentator started painting Craig as though he flunked the casting calls for Howard the Duck.

“It all boils down to me losing my brain for a second,” the 26-year-old Craig continued. “I take full responsibility for it and now will just try to keep moving forward. I know I’m a good defensive player and I can do a lot of good things on that side of the ball.”

The snarky side might suggest Craig and the Pirates who collaborated with him on the season’s most surrealistically slapstick play thus far handled things like men who’d learned their infield basics from the 1962 Mets.

Observing his coming place on eternity’s blooper reels indicates Craig—who won a Triple-A Gold Glove during his minor league life—has at least the sense of humour those ancient Mets needed just to get through that first calamitous season without losing their marble. Singular.

Maybe, too, the fact that neither the Pirates nor the Rockies look destined to reach this year’s postseason works in Craig’s favour. If he’d suffered last Thursday’s mishap in a postseason game, especially a World Series game, Joe, Jane, Joke, and Jerk alike would do everything in their power to make the rest of his baseball life—and maybe his life life—a living death.

Baez batted with two out and Cubs catcher Willson Contreras aboard in the top of the third, with the Cubs ahead 1-0. Baez whacked a sharp ground ball to Pirates third baseman Erik Gonzalez. He picked the ball cleanly. Then, he threw to first well enough off line to pull Craig forward, several feet down the line and in front of the pillow.

Craig had only to tag Baez or touch first for inning over. Then Baez got cute. Enough to break Craig’s concentration and prior knowledge for just long enough.

With about three feet between himself and Craig, he hit the brakes and went about-face back toward the plate, with Craig chasing him down the line instead of thinking about just tagging first. This is the kind of thinking lapse to which major league rookies are prone—even those with outstanding defensive reps in the minors, as Craig had—and into which even grizzled veterans can and do get caught sinking.

Contreras kept gunning it all the way home. Craig flipped to catcher Michael Perez. Contreras slid under the tag and Baez took off back to first. Perez threw past second baseman Adam Frazier looking to cover the base and Baez hit the afterburners for second.

I’m still trying to fathom how Craig ended up the sole goat on the play. Why does he wear the horns alone, when Gonzalez’s off-line throw started the whole megillah in the first place? Why does he wear the horns alone, when Perez threw well past first instead of bagging Baez there?

Baez basically had second on the house and the Cubs had a 2-0 lead. It became 3-0 when Cubs center fielder Ian Happ dumped a quail into short right center on which Baez with a good jump scored.

The official scoring on the play, according to Baseball-Reference, reads thus: Javier Baez—Reached on E3 (catch) (Ground Ball to Weak 3B to 3B); Contreras Scores/No RBI/unER; Baez out at 2B/Adv on E2 (throw).

Where were the Pirates to cover their rookie mate’s head and hide? Committing a pair of chargeable errors, that’s where. Where were the Pirates in the dugout to remind Craig in the immediate moment, step on first? Maybe they were as dumbstruck as everybody else in PNC Park when the thing began to unfurl. Maybe.

At least Craig’s manager had his post-game back. “He made a mistake and that’s it,” Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said. “You don’t option a guy [to the minors] because of the fact he made a mistake. We make mistakes in all realms of life. It just happened to be something nobody’s ever seen before.”

I didn’t mention the 1962 Mets just to be cute. Writing Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game? about that embryonic troupe, Jimmy Breslin swore the Mets infield lapsed almost likewise in the eighth inning of the first game of a doubleheader with the Cardinals.

Yes, I saw those Mets. They had Who the Hell was on First, What the Hell was on Second, You Didn’t Want To Know Who was on third, and You Didn’t Even Want To Think About It at shortstop. If it could have happened to anybody in the past, those Mets were them.

Breslin swore first baseman Marv Throneberry—the Original Mets’ original super-anti-hero—got so caught up trying to catch Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer in a rundown (they had Boyer cold, according to Breslin) that he and fellow Met infielders Rod Kanehl and Charley Neal forgot about Hall of Famer Stan Musial on third—to Musial’s slack-jawed amazement, before The Man shot home with what proved the winning run.

That was Breslin’s story. I had to be a spoilsport and look it up. I looked at every game log involving the first games in every doubleheader between the Mets and the Cardinals in 1962. They played three doubleheaders against each other that year. That play never happened.

There ain’t much good you can write about us, but I don’t see where that gives people the right to make stuff up, lamented Hell’s Angels president Sonny Barger about their notoriety in the mid-to-late 1960s. All that bullshit, hell, ain’t the truth bad enough for ’em?

The ’62 Mets may not have pulled a mental mistake quite as grave as Craig’s, not against the Cardinals, anyway, but that didn’t give Breslin any more right to misremember than it gives Joe, Jane, Joke, and Jerk the right to make Craig resemble the most blundering bonehead on the block this side of . . .

No, we’re not going to exhume Bill Buckner’s corpse. Or John McNamara’s. Or those of Fred Merkle, Freddie Lindstrom, Ernie Lombardi, Mickey Owen, Johnny Pesky, Charlie Dressen, Ralph Branca, Casey Stengel, Gene Mauch, Willie Davis, Dick Williams, Curt Flood, Tommy Lasorda, or Donnie Moore.

We’re not going to haul the still-living among Tom Niedenfuer, Don Denkinger, Mitch Williams, Dusty Baker, Grady Little, Buck Showalter, Matt Weiters, the ’64 Phillies, the ’69 Cubs (and every Cub from the [Theodore] Roosevelt Administration through the Obama Administration), the ’78 Red Sox, the ’07 Mets, the ’17 Nationals, and maybe every St. Louis Brown who ever walked the face of the earth, before the court, either—kangaroo or otherwise.

They failed despite their efforts, often as not in baseball’s most broiling hours. They suffered momentary lapses of eyes, ears, and minds, too, and with a lot more at stake than what’ll yet prove a meaningless game between two National League bottom feeders.

Joe, Jane, Joke, and Jerk still don’t get what Thomas Boswell (whose pending retirement will still be a loss to baseball wisdom) wrote upon Moore’s 1989 suicide:

Nobody will ever be able to prove that the haunting memory of giving up Dave Henderson’s home run in the 1986 American League playoffs led Moore to commit suicide. Maybe, someday, we’ll learn about some other possible cause. [Alas, we did.–JK.] But right now, what some people are saying, and many are thinking, is that this “goat” business isn’t funny anymore . . .

The flaw in our attitude—perhaps it is even an American predisposition with Puritan roots—is to equate defeat with sin. The unspoken assumption is that those who lose must do so because of some moral flaw.

Rookies make mistakes. Well-seasoned veterans make mistakes, even if they’ll be misremembered by even the funniest and sharpest reporters. Even managers who win ten pennants and seven World Series (including five straight to open) in twelve years make mistakes—the way Hall of Famer Casey Stengel did, when he failed to plot his pitching to allow his Hall of Famer Whitey Ford three instead of two 1960 World Series starts.

Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski and his Pirates still say thank you. Ford steamed quietly about it for years, until Stengel finally apologised to his old lefthander and earned Ford’s forgiveness. (Remember that when you think of a certain fan base’s unspoken motto, To err is human, to forgive must never be Yankee policy.)

Rookies and veterans alike also have things unexpected happen to them that turn routine plays into disasters you’d think made Hurricane Katrina seem like just a bathroom pipe break, the way Joe, Jane, Jerk, and Joke paint the poor souls.

Lucky for Craig that he does have that sense of humour about it. He’s already proven he’s made of better stuff than his critics and howlers, which doesn’t take all that much.

Felipe Vazquez, from closer to sexual convict

Felipe Vazquez

Vazquez’s too-prominent tattoos identified him when his face couldn’t in messages he sent an underage girl.

Two seasons ago, Felipe Vazquez was the arguable best pitcher on the National League’s arguably most dysfunctional team. The lefthanded closer on the National League Central’s bottom-feeding Pirates was having a career year and his second consecutive All-Star season when he got clipped over his apparent taste for and sexual misconduct with at least one underage girl.

When Vazquez was arrested on 17 September 2019, the charges came from two places. From Pennsylvania, charging him with 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. And, from Florida’s Lee County, charging him with computer porn–soliciting a child and providing obscene material to minors

Now Vazquez stands convicted of fifteen counts involving statutory sexual assault, sexual abuse of children, and child pornography in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. A jury handed the verdict down on Thursday after needing just four hours to determine they didn’t buy Vazquez’s defense argument that his thirteen-year-old victim misled him about her real age.

“I felt we put on a very strong defense,” said one of Vazquez’s attorneys, Gary Gerson, to Pittsburgh’s CBS affiliate KDKA. “Obviously, the jury disagreed. I’m not sure exactly what their assessment of the case was. But it appears to be that they have concluded that Felipe had a mistaken belief but it was not reasonable.”

On the trial’s fourth day, prosecutors argued Vazquez’s accuser was a minor at the time and remains one at age seventeen, with Vazquez interested not in a real relationship but in self-gratification, KDKA said. As if to emphasise the age point at the time she encountered Vazquez, they presented the jury with images of her.

Vazquez himself testified on Wednesday. KDKA said the pitcher told the court his dealings with the girl started with innocent social media conversation before things “began to veer toward adult topics.” He also testified that he’d asked her to give proof of her claimed legal age to avoid trouble, adding she sent what appeared a Pennsylvania identification card showing her of legal age.

KDKA added that he told the court he’d “had intimate relationships with other female followers and fans.”

The girl herself testified earlier in the trial. KDKA said she admitted not knowing whether Vazquez knew she was only thirteen when they first mat on social media, and she affirmed telling her mother when a police interview paused that she should have been the one in trouble.

Maybe the jury came to believe that Vazquez as a then 26-year-old professional baseball player was more than old enough to know better himself. MLB actually sent him the same message when they put him on its restricted list practically as soon as his arrest finished being processed.

The Pirates also wasted no time banishing him to the Phantom Zone, after the team learned of the bust and both team president Frank Coonelly and then-general manager Neal Huntington called a team meeting before their scheduled interleague game against the Mariners. “By game time, looking around [PNC Park], it was as if Vázquez had never played for the Pirates,” wrote The Athletic‘s Rob Biertempfel.

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.

His 2019 arrest sent a far more dark cloud over a team of Pirates that was already battered by its own dysfunctional clubhouse. And “dysfunctional” may have been a kind way to describe things.

Another Pirate reliever, Keone Kela, instigated a wild bench-clearing brawl on the night of the non-waiver trade deadline, when he threw at Cincinnati’s Derek Dietrich—over a pair of April home runs one of which landed in the Allegheny River. The brawl was even more memorable for involving then-Red Yasiel Puig . . . who wasn’t yet aware he’d been traded to the Indians.

That year’s Pirates seemed to earn and rather relish a reputation for headhunting on the mound. But they also seemed too willing to brawl with each other when the occasions arose. The Dietrich drill happened a week before Kela was suspended two days over a confrontation he’d had with the Pirates’ performance coach Hector Morales, a confrontation requiring then-manager Clint Hurdle’s intervention.

When Hurdle did intervene, an exchange between skipper and reliever was called downright insubordination on Kela’s part by a few other Pirates. The manager who’d previously led the Pirates to a couple of postseasons before the team was said to have gone into the tank was canned after the season and elected to retire from baseball, but nobody to my knowledge has said whether 2019’s implosions factored into the latter decision.

That year’s Pirates also had to deal with suspending bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, over an argument with yet another Pirate reliever, Kyle Crick, who’d accused Rojas of giving Vazquez preferential treatment. Rojas ordered Crick to mind his own business none too politely, apparently. Biertempfel wrote at the time that another Pirate went to the team’s administration insisting Rojas get “the same level of punishment as Kela had.”

Kela is now with the Padres, his fine 2021 so far rudely interrupted by pitching forearm strain that’s turned into Tommy John surgery. Crick remains with the Pirates, with a somewhat deceptive 1.59 ERA as a middle reliever/setup man, considering his 3.49 fielding-independent pitching rate and his troublesome 4.8 walks per nine innings so far this season.

In case you wondered, too, Dietrich is now in the Yankees’ minor league system and Puig—who’s denied allegations in a sexual assault suit—is playing in the Mexican League after finding no MLB takes this winter and spring.

The Pirates are at the bottom of the NL Central again this season. So far. They’re 5-6 in their last eleven games, with back-to-back walkoff wins in there. Former Red Sox rebuilder Ben Cherington is now their general manager. The team has announced they’ll open PNC Park to full capacity by July.

Their current closer, Richard Rodriguez, has been off the charts thus far even with the Pirates at rock bottom: a 0.47 ERA/1.71 FIP, and though he’s not particularly a strikeout artist, he pitches like a man allergic to walks. (0.5 per nine innings so far.)

You hope only that Rodriguez and the rest of this year’s Pirates are likewise allergic to the kind of dysfunction that battered a 2019 edition finishing 22 games out of first in their division and climaxed with his predecessor’s sordid denouement.

Vazquez is set for sentencing in three months. Florida charges involving the same girl remain pending. The now-former pitcher could be looking at “decades” worth of imprisonment in the United States, unless the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency elects to deport him home to his native Venezuela.

Vazquez’s nickname is Nightmare. But there’s another word for the man who took himself from a nightmare for opposing batters to a nightmare for an underage girl and her family. The word is degenerate.

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

2020-06-25 HarveyHaddix

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.

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* 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.