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.

Manny Machado teaches a hard-learned lesson

Manny Machado, Fernando Tatis, Jr.

Machado gestures emphatically while putting Tatis in his place in the fifth Saturday night.

More often than I care to admit, I miss the real fun stuff. That’s when I have to play catch-up as best I can with what I have.

On Saturday night, I watched my Mess (er, Mets) lose to the Phillies, 5-3, because the game was available to me on Fox Sports via Hulu.

But out in St. Louis, there were Padres veteran Manny Machado and boy wonder Fernando Tatis, Jr. having it out as the sides began changing in the middle of the fifth in St. Louis.

There, moreover, was Machado actually behaving like a team leader in the bargain. Go ahead and say it, until now you thought putting Machado and “team leader” in the same sentence was the equivalent of mining a diamond with a dental pick. But hear me out.

In both games, both sides spent enough time chirping over, shall we say, floating strike zones—the Mets and the Phillies about plate umpire C.B. Bucknor’s, the Padres and the Cardinals about their plate umpire Phil Cuzzi’s. That isn’t exactly new business when it comes to that pair of arbiters.

But the worst out of either the Mets or the Phillies  about Bucknor in Citi Field was chirping. In Busch Stadium, Tatis didn’t just take it when Cuzzi rang him up on a called, full-count, third strike from Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright leading off the top of the fifth.

The Padres led 2-0 at the time, in a game they absolutely had to win to stay alive in the National League wild-card race. First, Tatis gave an obviously frustrated sigh. Then, he bent his head over his left shoulder and made a few body-language movements plus some utterances . . . but he did it facing away from Cuzzi.

The bad news is that replays showed Cuzzi actually called the pitch right. It hit just under the strike zone ceiling. The worse news for the moment was Padres manager Jayce Tingler hustling out of the dugout to argue the call, trying to protect his player, but getting himself tossed post haste.

As Tingler got the ho-heave, Tatis returned to the dugout and banged the bench a few times in his frustration. Then, apparently, he continued grumbling about that third strike as the inning went forward, with Jake Cronenworth stranded on second following a one-out double. Machado is known to have befriended Tatis personally, but he’d also had more than enough of whatever bellyaching Tatis continued during the inning.

The next thing anyone knew, Machado could be heard hollering clearly enough at Tatis, Go play baseball! You play baseball. You can’t worry about that sh@t! You go play baseball! [Fornicate] that sh@t! Tatis must have tried to interject something about the disputed strike right there, because Machado then hollered, No, it’s not. It’s not about you! It’s not [fornicating] about you! Go [fornicating] play baseball.

Then the Padres’ veteran third baseman and their youthful superstar shortstop went back to the field to continue [fornicating] playing baseball.

The Padres lead held until the bottom of the eighth, when Cardinals third baseman Tommy Edman lofted a one-out sacrifice fly, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt wrung Padres reliever Emilio Pagan for a walk, and left fielder Tyler O’Neill hit a 2-2 cutter into the left field bullpen.

Perhaps ironically, two innings before that blast, O’Neill was no more thrilled with Cuzzi’s strike zone than any Padre on the night. He simply didn’t let mere frustration turn into a fuming that might require a Cardinal veteran or two dressing him down on the spot before the ump might throw him out.

“That was a great job by him not getting too animated there,” said Wainwright, who’d surrendered only a pair of RBI singles to Victor Caratini and Tommy Pham in the top of the fourth. “If we lose him right there, we probably lose the game . . . That was a lot of maturity by him to not get thrown out right there on some tough calls.”

O’Neill’s blast overthrew the lead Padres starter Yu Darvish handed the Padres bullpen after seven shutout innings during which he’d allowed a mere three hits while striking nine Cardinals out. The Padres had no answer in return against Cardinals reliever Giovanny Gallegos in the top of the ninth, with their own veteran first baseman Eric Hosmer striking out swinging on a slightly high fastball to end it.

Machado and Tatis had to be separated by Padres coach Ryan Flaherty before they returned to the field. Post-game, Tingler said only that the dustup wasn’t viewed “negatively” around the team that’s now lost 23 of their last 33 games after entering the season practically crowned the World Series winners-to-be by an awful lot of people now dining on roast crow.

“I’m sure people on the outside think it’s whatever they think, but we’re family,” Tingler told the press. “We’re not going to discuss the details, but we care. There’s passion, there’s frustration. Those are all emotions that are natural and those things happen. But it comes down to a group of men caring.”

The details were captured on more than one video that went slightly viral within moments of the dustup ending, as things turned out. Then the real focus became Machado, who once had a reputation for just the kind of petulance over which he’d now dressed Tatis down so dramatically and, shall we say, colourfully.

Those trying to score the dressing-down as just another example of Machado still being a self-centered pain in the rump roast might be shocked to discover a former Padre, Will Middlebrooks, tweeting very much otherwise in the immediate wake:

I know people will take the angle of “Machado is a bad teammate”…but you couldn’t be more wrong here. This was a leadership move. Let’s not forget FTJ is still 22. A phenomenal player, but still a lot to learn. Tatis can’t get tossed in the 5th inning of a game they need to win.

During an exchange featuring more than a few dissenting tweeters, Middlebrooks added, “History tells me that Machado had the experiences to know better. He’s grown up a lot and learned from his past.

The Padres didn’t make either Machado or Tatis available to the press after the game. But a week earlier, Machado spoke to Athletic writer Britt Ghrioli, during a weekend on which the Padres lost twice to the Dodgers. Machado only began by saying he’d learned some things at last.

There’s a time and place for everything. In Baltimore, I was young. I was just there to play. There were other guys that were leaders—Adam (Jones), J.J. (Hardy), (Matt) Wieters . . . Now, obviously, it’s different. Guys are looking up to me.

I think what’s happening now in this game is we are losing track of the older guys, the respect of the veterans, guys who have been here and done it a long time. You got to earn that respect; you got to earn that role. It’s not just given. A lot of players now are just expected to be the guy [when they reach the majors]. But I’m old-school baseball; I want to teach it how I was taught.

When you are young you make a lot of mistakes. You make mistakes as you grow and hopefully you learn from them, you gain experience. You [fornicate] up again, give your thoughts and learn from it again. That’s what it’s about. I messed up a lot at a young age, like a lot of people, but you take that and you try to learn from it. I’m at the point now where — I’ll be 30 [next year], I want to win. I just want to win.  And I think we can do that here.

“I would say Manny’s done a good job with all his leadership throughout the year,” Tingler said, though he refused again to speak of the deets involving the dugout dustup. “But I would say Manny being able to share his experience and share his past experiences of coming up in the league is a good thing.”

It hasn’t turned Machado into a grump refusing to let the kids play. He still has clear fun playing the game. It’s simply made him one of the adults in the room who knows from bitter experience when the kids can’t afford to get sent to bed without their supper and tries to stop it as best he can with what he has.

While all that happened, I was watching Phillies second baseman Jean Segura hit a pair of solo homers in the first and third off Mets starter Carlos Carrasco. I watched Mets center fielder Brandon Nimmo hit a one-out triple off the top of the right field wall and score on an infield ground out in the sixth to cut the deficit in half.

But I also watched Bryce Harper hit a two-run double in the seventh off Mets relief retread Brad Hand to put the game just out of the Mets’ reach. The other guys have now hit .357 off Hand since the Mets lifted him from the waiver wire at the beginning of this month.

And, after Mets reliever Miguel Castro sank into but escaped a bases-loaded jam with no further Phillies scoring in the top of the eighth, I saw Nimmo hit one over the right field fence to lead their half off but no further Met scoring the rest of the way.

It put the Phillies a mere game behind the Braves in the NL East, with the Braves losing to the Giants, 2-0, in San Francisco. It also kept the Mets five and a half out of first in the East but pushed them to seven games back in the wild card race. The Phillies knock on the door of improbability; the Mets—now losers of five straight—are only a step or three from going through the floor.

Catching up to the Padres and their once-unexpected adult in the room in St. Louis proved just as intriguing.

One night in the San Diego zoo

Will Smith

Will Smith had no idea in the moment that the game-tying homer he hit in the eighth Wednesday night would lead to hoisting Manfredball and enough of the old school by their own petards.

There it was. An extra-inning game that went sixteen innings and exposed both the worst possible side of Rob Manfred’s would-be new-school tinkerings and the worst possible side of the old school’s ongoing romance with insisting the worst bats in the lineup hold a place in the order.

What do you call a game in which each team got a free cookie on second base to open each extra half inning and, for five full innings straight, none of those cookies got eaten? That’s right: ten cookies on second to open ten half-innings in San Diego on Wednesday night, and not a one of them came home.

Zombieball? Manfredball? Your Sham of Shows? Monty Python and the Holy Hell? The Smothered Brothers Comedy Hours? A ballpark named for a pet store chain as the world’s largest zoo arena—with the animals holding the keys?

Until the Dodgers’ A.J. Pollock hit a leadoff two-run homer (that sounds bizarre to say, right, but that’s the Zombie Runner Era for you) in the top of the sixteenth, the longest extra-inning game since Manfred imposed the free cookie on second to open each extra half-inning was thirteen innings.

Pollock’s blast pretty much finished a 5-3 Dodger win in which Padres manager Jayce Tingler outsmarted himself with lineup maneuverings that brought his pitchers into batting behind Fernando Tatis, Jr., Manny Machado, and Jake Cronenworth with his bench emptied out previously.

It compelled Dodger manager Dave Roberts to do exactly what the now-retired Thomas Boswell pointed to as one of his prime reasons for finally deciding the designated hitter needed to be universal and permanently so:

It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of 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 AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.

Roberts forced Tingler’s hand twice—in the thirteenth, when his empty bench forced him to send pitcher Ryan Weathers out to the plate after intentional walks to Machado and Cronenworth to load the pads (Victor Caratini opened as the cookie on second); and, in the fifteenth, when Tingler had no choice but to let reliever Daniel Camarena bat after Cronenworth was handed another free pass.

Weathers at least made contact: a bouncer back to the mound that ended in an inning-ending force out at the plate. Camarena, a relief pitcher in his first Show turn who somehow managed to pick up a base hit in two previous unlikely plate appearances, looked at a full-count third strike.

“I liked the pitcher-versus-pitcher matchup,” said Roberts, after the Dodgers finally ended the sixteen-inning, 5-3 Dodger win. Show me a manager who wouldn’t love a pitcher-versus-pitcher matchup, knowing how often it won’t end in game-breaking hits, walk-off wins, or even absurd transient pleasures, and I’ll show you a manager in search of a job.

As of Friday morning the pitchers in 2021 posted a .109/.148/.140 slash line and a .288 OPS. The only “strategy” involved Wednesday night—remember, the Old Fart Contingency insists that keeping pitchers in the batting order keeps “strategy” in the game—was the opposing manager maneuvering his opponent into sending pitchers to the plate for all-but-automatic outs.

Wasn’t the game fun otherwise? Sure it was. Sure it was a kick watching Walker Buehler and Blake Snell duel like James Bond vs. the Green Hornet. Sure it was a kick watching Tatis guarantee a sixteenth inning when he smashed a one-out two-run homer in the bottom of an inning in which the Dodgers broke the elongated one-all tie with back-to-back RBI singles.

So how much fun was it, really, to watch the Dodgers hand out eight intentional walks during the game . . . all of them from the eleventh through the fifteenth? I didn’t think so, either.

Trivia, courtesy of the irrepressible Hall of Fame writer Jayson Stark: The Orioles—who stupefied everyone else by following their nineteen-game losing streak-ending 10-6 win over the Angels Wednesday night by bludgeoning the Angels 13-1 Thursday night—have issued eight intentional walks while facing 5,168 batters in the last full calendar year. Whatever else is wrong with the Orioles, handing out comps isn’t one of them.

On the other hand, how much real fun other than a belly laugh that you might not weep was it to notice that Cronenworth reached base six times in the extra innings without once having been in the batter’s box?

Bottom of the eleventh: intentional walk. (Remember: the pitcher doesn’t have to throw four wide ones to do it anymore.) Bottom of the twelfth: he’s the cookie on second. Bottom of the thirteenth: another free pass. Bottom of the fourteenth: he’s the cookie again. Bottom of the fifteenth: another free pass. Bottom of the sixteenth: he’s the cookie yet again.

By the way, Tatis and Pollock became the first players to hit multi-run homers in the fifteenth inning or later since David Ortiz and Mark Teixiera did it in 2015. On the other hand, Pollock’s was the first by a Dodger batter since Hi Myers—in 1919.

Now, on to the further absurdity of crediting one guy for everybody else’s work, also known as the pitching win. You’d better sit down, kids: The Dodgers used ten pitchers in the marathon. Nine of them surrendered no earned runs. The guy who surrendered two runs, one earned, Corey Knebel, got credit for the “win.”

“So has that ever happened?” asked Stark. “A game in which 10 pitchers or more show up on the mound for any team, at least nine of them allow no earned runs and the 10th (the only one to get scored on) vultures the win?” Then, he answered:

Since I’m only a glutton for so much punishment, I merely checked games before September — but did go all the way back to 1901.

And how many other games did I find that fit this description? If you guessed none, you win!

Knebel served the game re-tying meatball Tatis sent over the right field fence in the bottom of the fifteenth and gets the “win” when he should really be giving Pollock half the win for hitting the two-run leadoff blast in the top of the sixteenth.

The other half-win should have gone to Shane Greene, who took his 8.84 ERA into the bottom of the inning and—with Cronenworth taking his third turn as the inning-opening cookie on second—got two swinging strikeouts before a grounder to short finally ended the marathon. Greene did 67 percent of the work in the bottom of the sixteenth . . . and got a “save” for a clean inning in which he had to pitch his way out of an artifically, arbitrarily-created jam. Some save.

If Jacob deGrom earning back-to-back Cy Young Awards despite not being a “winner” wasn’t enough to convince you how fatuous the pitching “win” really is for telling you how well a guy really pitches (Jacob deGrom’s issue wasn’t that he “didn’t know how to win.” It was that he didn’t know how not to be on the New York MetsAnthony Castrovince), maybe something like that will finally start giving you the a-ha!

Maybe something like Wednesday’s game will start giving you the a-ha! too about the futility and stupidity of letting pitchers continue to hold places in the batting order, if the aforementioned slash line or their historical futility at the plate doesn’t. (I’ve pointed it out before, I’ll say it again: since the final decade of the Dead Ball Era, the pitchers have hit a collective .166.)

Maybe the absurdity of Jake Cronenworth reaching base six times from the eleventh through the sixteenth without once truly checking in at the plate will give more people the a-ha! about Manfred’s beyond-insane free cookie on second to start the extra half innings. I’d suggest it might give Manfred himself the same a-ha! too. But I don’t believe in that many miracles.

“Some no-hitters are simply games that go your way”

Tyler Gilbert

Tyler Gilbert gets the congratulatory Gatorade shower . . . that he should have given his teammates, instead.

Tyler Gilbert had a night to remember Saturday, all right. He became only the fourth pitcher in National/American League/American Association history to pitch a no-hitter in his first major league starting assignment.

The company Gilbert joins includes Theodore Breitenstein (1891 St. Louis Browns, AA; the league folded at season’s end), Bumpus Jones (1892 Reds; he surrendered one run in a game in which he walked four), and Bobo Holloman. (1951 Browns, AL, and not the same franchise as the 1891 Browns.)

It took 62 years between Jones and Holloman, then 68 years between Holloman and Gilbert. Pitching a no-hitter is tough enough as it is. Pitching one in your first big-league start seems somewhere between finding the pillar of salt known as Lot’s wife and swimming the full Pacific solo. Right?

“Some no-hitters are pure dominance,” writes ESPN’s David Schoenfield, “and some are simply games that go your way and you get your name in the record books alongside two guys named Bumpus and Bobo.”

Let’s be real. On Saturday night, Gilbert had a game that went his way to get his name in the record books next to a couple of guys named Bumpus and Bobo. I’m not going to say Gilbert did bupkis to leave the Padres with bupkis, but he had more than a little help from his friends.

(He also had a lot of un-premeditated help from the Padres: Fernando Tatis, Jr. was still a day from leaving the injured list where that shoulder dislocation landed him. Gilbert didn’t even have to think about the biggest stick in the Padres’ lumberyard.)

Considering he was responsible for 23 percent of the outs directly, Gilbert had a lot of help from his friends. He faced 28 batters, struck five batters out, but walked three of them, the direct opposite of Holloman’s direct game performance. “[The Padres] a couple hard-hit balls, but I was glad somebody was there to catch them,” Gilbert admitted post-game.

A couple? Gilbert’s fielders took care of 77 percent of the outs (nine ground outs including a pair of double plays; thirteen fly outs); Holloman walked five, struck out three, and his fielders were responsible for 85 percent of the outs. (Twelve ground outs, eleven fly outs.)

And, since this was a National League game, with no designated hitter in the Diamondbacks lineup, Gilbert had to make four plate appearances in the game. He grounded out to the hole at shortstop once, struck out once, and dropped a pair of sacrifice bunts.

The first bunt set up second and third to be followed by a walk and an inning-ending double play. The second pushed Nick Ahmed to third after Ahmed opened the inning with a double. Ahmed scored the seventh Arizona run in due course on a long single down the left field line. That’s one wasted out, one push of a man to third to come home on a long single, and thus direct responsibility for a quarter of a run.

The Snakes did the bulk of their scoring early enough and often enough with a five-run first: an RBI double (Ketel Marte); an RBI single (David Peralta); and, a three-run homer (Drew Ellis). They added the sixth run with a leadoff single (Pavin Smith) and an immediate RBI triple (Josh Rojas) in the fifth.

All on the dollar of Joe Musgrove, who became the twelfth pitcher in Show history to pitch a no-hitter and have a no-hitter against him in the same season. Musgrove’s in pretty intriguing company himself that way—three of those twelve pitchers (Pud Galvin, 1880; Bob Feller, 1951; Juan Marichal, 1963) are Hall of Famers.

But are you really going to call a pitcher who takes care of only 23 percent of the other guys’ outs and does nothing other than a sacrifice bunt that pushed a runner to third base the guy most responsible for the triumph?

“For all of the consternation about the deluge of no-hitters in 2021,” wrote ESPN’S Jeff Passan after Corey Kluber nailed the season’s sixth no-hitter in late May, “the act itself—recording 27 outs without allowing a single hit—remains a miracle.”

In Gilbert’s case, just as in Holloman’s case, it also remains a testament to the efficiency of his defense and the evening potency of the Diamondbacks lineup. Kluber, Musgrove, Carlos Rodon, John Means, Wade Miley, and Spencer Turnbull did more to earn their no-hitters earlier this year than Gilbert did.

I recorded that after Kluber’s no-no, in May, but it’s worth seeing again, adding Gilbert for the full context. I include the fielding-independent pitching rates of each of those pitchers at the time they threw their no-hitters, indicating whom among them was the most likely to turn the trick. I also assign a Win Factor based on their strikeouts divided by the sum of the ground and fly outs in the game. Here they are:

Pitcher Game Score K GO FO WF FIP
Joe Musgrove 3-0 10 10 7 .588 2.88
Carlos Rodon 8-0 7 10 10 .350 1.91
John Means 6-0 12 3 12 .800 3.25
Wade Miley 3-0 8 15 5 .400 3.24
Spencer Turnbull 5-0 9 12 6 .500 2.77
Corey Kluber 2-0 9 9 9 .500 3.57
Tyler Gilbert 7-0 5 9 13 .227 2.79

Gilbert had the least direct responsibility for his no-hit performance among the seven, while Means had the most with Musgrove the second-most. Gilbert by FIP was more likely to pitch a no-hitter than four among the seven but less likely to do it than Rodon and Turnbull. On the other hand, Means lived almost as dangerously as Gilbert with those twelve fly outs in his game.

There are no game logs available to analyse Theodore Breitenstein’s and Bumpus Jones’s no-hitters, but we do have one to analyse Bobo Holloman’s. His yields a .125 win factor—three strikeouts, as noted earlier, but the Browns managed to divide the field labour evenly otherwise: twelve ground outs and twelve fly outs. Holloman’s 4.57 FIP also made him the least likely of any of the four rooks to throw a no-hitter in his first Show start. By far.

Gilbert on earth and Holloman in the Elysian Fields can still take heart that they did at least something on their own to produce no-hitters. They didn’t pitch no-nos in which they did nothing to earn them.

Ken Holtzman did, once, in 1969. Four years to the day after Cincinnati legend Jim Maloney’s oddity (a no-hitter with eleven strikeouts and ten walks), Holtzman’s Cubs beat the Braves, 3-0 . . . with Holtzman striking nobody out, walking three, and needing twelve ground outs and fifteen fly outs to get out alive, never mind with no hits against him.

Essentially, Holtzman did nothing direct to contribute to that win. (He didn’t even do anything at the plate to, ahem, pitch in, either: he went 0-for-3 with a pop fly out to the infield and a pair of ground outs.) But Holtzman took the headlines regardless, and his teammates congratulated him heartily when it should have been the other way around.

Congratulate Gilbert regardless. But once the ball left his hand and those bats, the job was out of his hands entirely. Gilbert should also thank God his fielders knew what they were doing out there to do the most at keeping the Padres off the bases.

There’s only one thing more weird than declaring a pitcher a “winner” in a game where he had little enough to do with his team’s scoring and the other guys’ lack of it. That’s declaring him a “loser” when a) he wasn’t responsible for his team’s lack of scoring; b) he didn’t throw the fat pitch that turned into a game-losing hit; c) he wasn’t in the game when the guy who reached base against him scored what proved the winning run; or, d) or his defense could have been tried by jury for criminal neglect in the field.

But there’s Gilbert with a no-hitter and a win on his record. A no-hitter and a win for which he did only 23 percent of the work needed to deliver without factoring his team’s batting on the night. A win toward which he contributed—without scoring or driving it in—to one fourth (it takes four bases to make a run, remember?) of fourteen percent of his team’s seven runs on the night when he showed up at the plate.

If that’s a “winner,” I’m the headless man in the topless bar.