It wasn’t over until it was over

Chris Taylor

Chris Taylor, about to demolish Alex Reyes’s hanging slider and the Cardinals’ season in the bottom of the ninth . . .

If the postseason means anything, it means the biggest men on the field can come up as short as the least among them can come up Bunyanesque. You can watch the big men go hammer and tongs at it only to find the last or next-to-last man swung the wrecking ball that counted.

But if you thought a utility man who’d gone seven-for-September (well, seven hits in 71 plate appearances) would send the Dodgers to a National League division series after spending most of the NL wild card game riding the proverbial pine, you should be buying stocks, futures, and lottery tickets.

Infielder-outfielder Chris Taylor was sent into the game to open the seventh in left field, in a managerial double switch, and bat ninth in the order. And in the bottom of the ninth Wednesday night, with two outs, Cody Bellinger on second, and Alex Reyes on the mound for the Cardinals, Taylor with one swing reinforced two inviolable laws.

One was the Biblical admonition about the last being first. The other was Berra’s Law. The truest valedictory for this National League wild card game is that it most assuredly wasn’t over until it was over. It took a man who’d gone from All-Star in the season’s first half to also-ran in the second half, when a neck nerve issue contributed to making him almost literally half the player he’d been from April through July.

The number nine batter sent the Dodgers toward a division series showdown with their lifelong blood rivals, the Giants, with one swing, one two-run homer, and one moment in which the Elysian Fields angels decided the Red Sox deflating the Yankees in the American League wild card game just wasn’t quite enough.

Taylor turned on Reyes’s slider hanging a sliver under the belt and sent the ball about ten rows into the left field bleachers. He also sent Dodger Stadium into a racket that could have been heard practically across the state line separating California from Nevada.

Remember Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck’s ancient holler after broken-bodied Kirk Gibson ended Game One of the 1988 World Series with a home run? Even home plate umpire Joe West—on the threshold of retirement at last—looked as though he wanted for once to come out from behind his cloak of professionalism, and beyond his reputation for inserting himself too much into games, to holler it.

I don’t believe—what I just saw!

Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer believed it. Those who were there swear Scherzer turned to Dodger reliever Joe Kelly in the dugout as Bellinger checked in at the plate, telling Kelly, “I think Belli is going to get on here, and CT is gonna hit a homer.” If that’s true, maybe Scherzer should be buying stocks, futures, and lottery tickets himself.

Bellinger—whose regular season was laid waste by incomplete recovery from shoulder surgery last off-season and more than a few injuries nagging and otherwise including a broken bone or two—wrung himself into a full-count walk. Then, he stole second when Yadier Molina, the Cardinals’ grand old man behind the plate, couldn’t find a handle to throw against Bellinger’s big jump off first.

With the next pitch, Taylor made Scherzer into a prophet. Ending a game in which neither side could pry more than a single run out of either Scherzer or the Cardinals’ co-grand old man Adam Wainwright despite neither righthander having anything much resembling their truly vintage repertoires, other than a few tastes of Scherzer’s better sliders and Wainwright’s better curve balls.

“We’re going to need him,” Dodger manager Dave Roberts said about Taylor before the game. “I can’t predict what spot, whether it’s to get a bunt down, take an at-bat, play defense, start a game. I can’t predict that. I do know that he’s one of my favorite players. I trust him as a ballplayer, as a person. We’re going to need him this postseason.”

Need, meet net result. And, the newest member of a distinguished fraternity of modest men who step up immodestly in the postseason when it matters the most.

With the Dodgers’ season on the line—and TBS broadcasters Brian Anderson and Ron Darling having predicted two innings earlier that the game was liable to be won in the final at-bat—Taylor joined the like of Travis Ishikawa, Chris Burke, Aaron Boone, Todd Pratt, and Bucky Dent on the roll of the unlikeliest postseason bombers making the difference in win-or-be-gone games.

“[I]t’s been a grind for me,” Taylor said postgame. “I haven’t been playing my best. So to come through in the ninth, it felt really really good.”

Somehow, some way, Wainwright ground through five and a third innings with only Justin Turner’s leadoff launch to the rear of the Dodger bullpen in the fourth against him. Scherzer didn’t quite last that long. Despite his game-long wrestling matches with the Cardinal lineup, he was none too thrilled to get the hook in the fifth. He wouldn’t even give Roberts the ball as he left the mound.

Post-game, of course, Max the Knife was in his glory, interviewing shirtless and slightly inebriated from the party champagne. And, celebrating with his erstwhile Nationals teammate Juan Soto, who’d been in the field boxes—wearing Dodger shortstop Trea Turner’s Nats jersey, sitting next to Nats hitting coach Kevin Long in Scherzer’s Nats jersey.

“You gotta get rid of this echo,” Scherzer said on camera. “Can’t talk. I’m drunk, whatever.”

For all that the Cardinals made Scherzer wiggle into and out of jams as if it were par for the course, the only run they pried out of him was his own doing, when he wild-pitched Tommy Edman home on 0-2 to Nolen Arenado in the top of the first.

This was a game dominated by full counts, batters unable to cash gloriously positioned baserunners in, even with Scherzer and Wainwright looking like the elders they are on the mound. The Cardinals had the worst of that, going 0-for-11 with men in scoring position against Scherzer and four Dodger relievers—particularly resurgent closer Kenley Jansen, striking out the side in the ninth around Edman’s one-out single and theft of second.

Taylor also ended a too-brief battle between two men who’d gone from first-half boom to second-half bust. Like Taylor, Reyes was an All-Star for his first half. But he’d pitched his way out of the Cardinals’ closing job in the second. Just as Dodger manager Dave Roberts never once lost faith in his veteran Taylor, Cardinals manager Mike Schildt never really lost true faith in his still-young reliever.

Schildt isn’t the only one having Reyes’ back after Taylor broke his and the Cardinals’ backs Wednesday night.

“I just gave him gave him a huge hug,” said Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals’ other grand old man and wild card game starter. “Told him we love him, told him I loved him and gave him another big hug and just told him how special he was as a player and as a teammate, as a person.

“You know, it’s all you can say in a moment like that,” Wainwright continued. “He doesn’t probably want to hear any of it, but it’s all true. He’s a great teammate, is a great player. He’s a great pitcher. He’s a great friend, and I hate seeing anyone go through that, but he’s got an incredible future ahead of him.”

He’ll only have to shake off having thrown the pitch that ended a season in which the Cardinals lost a little too much—including their pitching ace-in-the-continuing-making Jack Flaherty—to the injured list and to deflated expectations for much of the season.

A season in which the Cardinals ironed up when it mattered most and rode a staggering seventeen-game winning streak, not to mention a fine young outfield, a mostly stingy defense overall, mostly solid hitting, and their elder anchorage of Wainwright and Molina,  toward the second National League wild card.

The Dodgers might have been humiliated more if they came up short. A 106 game-winning defending World Series winner, settling for the first National League wild card, after they couldn’t quite get that one game past the NL West-winning Giants? There wouldn’t be enough available space to hold all the variations on the implosion theme.

There may not be enough space to hold all the variations of Taylor-made sure to come forth now.

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.

Luis’s pieces

Luis Rojas

If you want to know why Met fans call for manager Luis Rojas’s execution every other day, Tuesday night’s loss to the Cardinals handed the prosecution incontrovertible evidence.

Maybe it’ll be better all around if the Mets end up out of the postseason picture, after all. If the manner in which manager Luis Rojas ran Tuesday’s 7-6 loss to the Cardinals is any indication, the Mets would be lucky to get past a wild card game, never mind to it in the first place.

No, we’re not taking the Mets’ hitters off the hook for going a measly 4-for-14 with runners in scoring position. We’re not taking them off the hook for killing four rallies by hitting into double plays.

We’re not taking them off the hook for one of those double plays coming in the tenth inning, after a walk to Jonathan Villar added to the free cookie on second to start the inning. And we’re not taking Pete Alonso off the hook for hitting into two of those double plays plus striking out with first and second to kill a fifth-inning chance at tying or taking a lead.

But we’d like to know what on earth Rojas was or wasn’t thinking, after he lifted his starting pitcher Marcus Stroman following six innings of two-run ball in which his only troublesome inning was the fourth, when the Cardinals scored those two runs on a deep infield hit and a sacrifice fly.

Since Rojas entered the game knowing he wasn’t going to use either Seth Lugo or Miguel Castro, he brought Aaron Loup in for the seventh. Watching Loup use only seven pitches to get two fly outs and a swinging strikeout, it didn’t cross Rojas’s mind that Loup might have another healthy and even economical inning in him.

No, Rojas went instead to Jeurys Familia, who’d been less than effective in his previous two outings, rather than giving the ball to his usual eighth-inning option Trevor May. May might have been pried for three runs in his previous outing (against the Yankees, in the 9/11 anniversary game), but he’d been sharp and un-scored upon in nine of his prior ten gigs until then.

Familia surrendered a one-out walk (to Paul Goldschmidt) and a two-run homer immediately to follow (by Tyler O’Neil). Not until the Cardinals followed at once with Nolen Arenado singling and Yadier Molina reaching on catcher’s interference did Rojas finally remember May. And May only caught Dylan Carlson looking at strike three before getting Edmundo Sosa to ground out for the side.

Rojas also didn’t read the deep text when inconsistent Edwin Diaz pitched a scoreless ninth with only thirteen pitches needed. Sure, Harrison Bader led off reaching on an error, but the Cardinals handed Diaz and the Mets a present by ordering pinch-hitter Lars (Sometimes You Feel Like a) Nootbaar to sacrifice. After such Cardinal generosity, Diaz needed only two pitches to get rid of Tommy Edman on a ground out and four to get Goldschmidt to foul out for the side.

Then Javier Baez led off the bottom of the ninth against Cardinals reliever Geovanny Gallegos by hitting the first pitch of the turn over the left field fence to tie it up at four. Three Met outs later, Diaz might well have been able to pitch the tenth successfully, leaving Rojas the option of Heath Hembree for the eleventh.

But no. He lifted Diaz and sent Hembree out for the tenth. Hembree struck O’Neil out swinging to lead off. The Mets ordered Arenado to first on the house and got exactly what they bargained for, Molina hitting into a double play to end the inning. It only cost Hembree seven pitches (remember, you don’t have to throw four wide ones for an intentional walk anymore) to do it. There might have been no harm, no foul if Rojas sent Hembree back out for the eleventh, either.

“I can’t ask any more from the guys,” Rojas said post-game, when asked why he didn’t push his pen men just a little bit harder considering the time running out on the Mets’ hair-thin postseason chances.

“Right now, it would be unfair,” he continued. “I can’t put them in a situation where it would compromise anything else, their stuff, their health. You might run a guy out there and he might not be the same pitcher you’re asking the guy to be, as well. There’s just a lot of things that go into it. Ideally, the manager wants to pitch everyone every day, but there’s some other things that come into play when you talk. It’s the player’s feel, the pitching coach’s feel, my feel.”

Where was the feel when the best options Rojas played pitched so economically in their effectiveness that an extra inning from any of them might have made a phenomenal difference?

There came harm and foul when Rojas instead went to Jake Reed, a 28-year-old rookie not long returned from the injured list and not having thrown a major league inning since mid-August. The good news was Reed, too, pitching economically enough—eight pitches total.

But then there’s the bad news: 1) His third pitch was hit for a leadoff single, sending the free cookie on second to third post haste. 2) His sixth pitch was hit for an RBI single to break the four-all tie. 3) His eighth pitch was turned into a two-run single.

Then Rojas brought in Trevor Williams, his import from the Cubs and normally a starter but well between assignments and able to throw part or all of an inning if necessary. Williams shook off a base hit to get Goldschmidt to dial Area Code 6-4-3 for the side.

Now the questions would include why not have Williams open a clean inning (if you didn’t count the cookie on second) instead of opening it with a rusty rookie? Said Rojas: Well, Reed’s a reliever and Williams is a starter. There’ve been how many skippers burned alive when they went by The Book instead of what their eyes, ears, and actual numbers whispered in their ears?

Going his Book enabled Rojas to pull the lulu of the night—turning to spaghetti bat Albert Almora, Jr. to pinch hit in the bottom of the eleventh, after the Mets pulled back to within a run on an RBI double and a throwing error by Cardinals reliever Kim, and with Williams’s lineup slot due up.

He picked Almora over Luis Guillorme. After opening 0-2, Almora wrestled his way to a full count—and grounded out modestly to end it. Why Almora over Guillorme? “Against a lefty,” Rojas said, “not the right matchup.”

Which part of his Book did Rojas ignore, in deciding the righthanded Almora was his best chance to tie or win despite the fact that Almora’s been hitting like . . . a pitcher, this season? (Slash line: .115/.148/.173.)

Which part of that Book did Rojas ignore in deciding Guillorme the lefthanded bat had no business going to the plate in that spot . . . even with his .344 on-base percentage against portside pitching in 33 plate appearances this season?

(What’s the name of his Book, anyway? For Whom the Bell Tolls?)

Maybe Guillorme would have poked an RBI hit to tie or even win the game. Maybe he would have ended the game the same way Almora did; maybe he might have flied out to end it. But he’d have given Rojas and the Mets the absolute better shot at keeping the game alive or winning it.

The only time Rojas did set his Book to one side Tuesday night was taking Familia over May. As Casey Stengel might have said, there comes a time in every man’s life and he shouldn’t have had that one.

You want to know why frustrated Met fans call for Rojas’s summary execution after just about every other Met loss and sometimes after oddly-managed Met wins? Tuesday night was gilt-edged evidence for the prosecution.

This morning they’re thanking God and His servant Stengel that Tuesday night wasn’t a postseason game. They may even thank both if the Mets finally don’t make the dance at all. How sad is that?

When sucking it up sucks

Jack Flaherty

If you’re ailing, speak up. You might save yourself some worse injury grief—even immediately.

The one pitcher the Cardinals could not afford to lose, especially missing two other key starting pitchers, is lost to them now. For who knows how long. It raises a dilemna almost as old as baseball itself: Who’s responsible for knowing or revealing when a player, any player, is injured enough to remove him before further damage is done?

Jack Flaherty admitted he started feeling tight in his side while pitching in the bottom of the fifth in his hometown Dodger Stadium Monday evening. But his turn in the batting order was due up in the top of the sixth and—right after Justin Williams led off with a home run to cut the Dodger lead to 2-1—he went out to the plate.

Flaherty swung on 0-1 at an outer-edge service from Dodger righthander Trevor Bauer, foul ticked it, and grimaced noticeably during the swing before hopping around the plate area in discomfort. He remained at the plate to finish the turn, taking a low ball one and then a called strike three. Then Cardinals manager Mike Shildt removed him from the game.

Now Flaherty’s on the ten-day injured list with a no-doubt oblique strain, and the Cardinals expect him to miss more time than that. With fellow key starters Miles Mikolas and Dakota Hudson already on the list—and baseball suffering quite the injury epidemic already this season—this is exactly what the Cardinals don’t need.

The question before the house—provoked in part by a social media debate into which I fell after noting Flaherty gone to the ten-day injured list Tuesday but likely to be out longer—is this: Should Shildt have been aware his man was ailing and either a) pinch-hit for him right off the bat in the sixth; or, b) removed him at once following the fateful swing to let another hitter finish the turn?

You might think the manager’s job includes awareness of his pitcher’s condition in the moment. Sometimes that awareness causes managers unwarranted grief, as Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash can tell you from Game Six of last year’s World Series. But often as not that awareness does the manager a big favour when he has all his other marbles in the right place.

Should Shildt himself have noticed Flaherty feeling tight in the bottom of the fifth? Open to debate. Should he have seen Flaherty in obvious discomfort swinging on that foul tick and pulled him on the spot for a pinch swinger to finish the plate appearance? Open to debate likewise.

It’s not unprecedented for a batter to be pulled for assorted reasons during a plate appearance and for a pinch hitter to finish the turn. But there’s a missing link between the fifth and the sixth: Flaherty himself, and whether he thought to speak up and admit he wasn’t feeling quite right.

The Cardinals’ most valuable pitcher probably had no business at the plate or staying in the game to get there in the first place. If last year’s universal designated hitter had been made permanent from this year forward, as it most assuredly should have been, Flaherty wouldn’t have even had to worry about checking in at the plate.

Maybe in that instance, the tightness he felt in the fifth would have eased up with a half-inning off for good behaviour and allowed him to pitch one more inning—this time, with a one-run lead. Maybe.

Shildt had an option on his bench if he wanted it, lefthanded swinger Matt Carpenter. Carpenter hasn’t been the hitter he once was for about three seasons, now, but he would have been a hitter at all. He’s not historically the most dangerous man at the plate with two strikes, but he does have ninety hits including 23 home runs lifetime when hitting with two strikes on him.

With the bases empty, nobody out, and the Cardinals back to within a run of the Dodgers after Williams’s leadoff blast, do you really want a pitcher—a breed that’s hitting a whopping .109 with a glandular .146 on-base percentage and a swollen .141 slugging percentage—at the plate to start turning a one-run deficit into a tie game at minimum? (Sit down and shut up, Old Fart Contingency.)

No, you wouldn’t, if you could help it. Flaherty himself is no big bopper at the plate. Not hitting .185 this season, he isn’t.

Talking during a post-game press conference, Flaherty admitted he doesn’t like coming out of games on his own volition if he can help it. Bulldogging pitchers earn plenty of gold stars. But they like other players also bulldog themselves into bigger trouble when they don’t give their bodies the benefit of the doubt.

The injury you try playing or pitching through today can and too often does turn into the one that knocks you out for a lot longer than you’d like. Depending on the time of the season, it also might help cost your team a postseason shot. With twelve players on the IL before Flaherty joined them, and a bullpen faltering (and overtaxed) too often already, the Cardinals could afford to have him among the missing about as much as a cobra can afford dinner, dancing, and a hotel reservation with a mongoose.

Even in today’s baseball there remains a cultural dilemna. Speak up when you’re hurting, there’ll still be those who look at you as a softie, maybe whisper thus half behind your back. Clam up when you’re hurting, they’ll call you a bulldog now but curse the day you were born when you’ve been disabled awhile with a far more severe problem and they find themselves in the pennant race’s rear view mirrors.

The old school managers weren’t always the most empathetic lot when it came to injuries, either. Maybe none was more notorious than Leo Durocher, whose problems blowing the 1969 National League East title including demanding his Cubs speak up when ailing—then denouncing them as “quitters” whenever they did speak up.

When Fred Hutchinson managed the Reds before his death of cancer in 1964, he once lifted his ace-in-the-making Jim Maloney—despite Maloney working on a potential no-hitter—beause he spotted Maloney in forearm discomfort. “When you have an arm like that,” Hutch told reporters post-game, “you don’t take chances.”

His successors Dick Sisler and especially Dave Bristol treated injuries as mortal sins, especially involving pitchers. “If he can just get the ball to the plate, he’s not hurting,” Bristol was once quoted as saying. Hutchinson was a former pitcher who knew better. Bristol was a former minor league infielder who pitched now and then, and his brains went to sleep on him. Maloney developed rest-of-career shoulder trouble after Hutchinson was gone and a concurrent unfair reputation as a crybaby when he did speak out now and then about his continuously barking shoulder.

Remember when another former Reds pitcher, reliever Rob Dibble, snarked his way out of a Nationals broadcasting job for zapping young Stephen Strasburg coming out of a game with what seemed forearm issues at the moment? “Suck it up, kid. This is your profession,” Dibble huffed. “You chose to be a baseball player. You can’t have the cavalry come in and save your butt every time you feel a little stiff shoulder, sore elbow . . . stop crying, go out there and pitch. Period.”

Turned out Strasburg had more than just a forearm issue—he faced Tommy John surgery. He’s had injury issues throughout his career; until last year, he pitched damn well when healthy. Including when he stood as the 2019 World Series MVP. Dibble should have known even better than Hutchinson actually did—he’d missed the entire 1994 season after shoulder surgery and was gone within two years. Suck it up, kid.

Sandy Koufax sucked it up in 1965-66, after learning his pitching elbow was arthritic. He’d already gone from no great shakes through 1960 to off the charts from 1961-64. In 65-66, he went from off the charts to the tenth dimension aided by a medical regimen that could have killed him if the workload (699 innings over those two seasons) didn’t.

Then—gone. Koufax decided sucking it up, even to win two of his three Cy Young Awards, back-to-back pennants, and a World Series, wasn’t worth living what he feared would be a compromised life. Good for him. It ensured his baseball immortality. And, it let him make a liar out of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the author’s maxim about the lack of second acts in American life.

(It also spared us the sight of a Hall of Famer in decline, letting Koufax leave at 30 frozen forever as a young lancer who turned plate appearances into battles against the unarmed.)

By the way, Shildt eventually did call upon Carpenter to pinch hit Monday, an inning later. Except that Dodger manager Dave Roberts promptly lifted Bauer and compelled Shildt to pull Carpenter back, when Roberts brought in lefthander Victor Gonzalez, in favour of righthanded hitting Lane Thomas. Gonzalez struck Thomas out for the side.

An inning earlier, perhaps Roberts would have let Bauer work his way through. As it was, after Flaherty finished his standing plate appearance before leaving the game entirely, Tommy Edman reached on an infield throwing error and Dylan Carlson hit one over the center field fence to give the Cardinals their only lead of the game.

Maybe if Carpenter had pinch hit to finish Flaherty’s plate appearance, he might have tagged a hit or reached otherwise (he’s walked fourteen times this year and still has a good enough eye at the plate to keep doing it) and instead enabled a 4-2 score after five and a half inning. (The Cardinals went on to lose, 9-4.)

From every account and appearance, Shildt is not an insensitive man. He’s had his moments of snark and foolishness, but they’ve been few enough so far. Right now, he’s in a pennant race in which he’d love to stay all the way. He can’t afford to let his wounded stay quiet before they go from ailing to disaster.

Unless you believe as I do that the universal DH is an idea whose permanent time is overdue enough, Flaherty didn’t get injured doing something he shouldn’t have been doing. He got hurt on the job doing his job. As one Twitter respondent said to me, it sucks that he got hurt but that’s part of the game.

Indeed. Not just to pitchers, either: Fernando Tatis, Jr. took an early exit in the sixth Tuesday night when he felt tightness in the same area, too. The Padres are keeping him day-by-day to be safe. Young as he is, Tatis probably knows any compulsion to suck it up risks making things more painful.

If Flaherty felt compelled to keep quiet about his side tightness after the bottom of the fifth Monday, Shildt might consider talking to him and the rest of his players. He could tell them it does themselves or the club no good to stay quiet when hurting.

“Talk up and sit down now, rather than hit disaster down the stretch. You’re not less of a man for being injured, but you’d be less of a man if it went from bad enough to worse.” That’s what Shildt could and should tell his Cardinals. That’s what Jayce Tingler might want to tell his Padres, too. That’s what any manager should want to tell his team.

Enough is way beyond enough, already

Jack Flaherty

Flaherty in discomfort after fouling off an outer-edge pitch in the sixth Monday. He grimaced with gritted teeth as he swung—and could face IL time with an oblique strain.

Bad enough: Someone had to drag it out of Jacob deGrom that his freshly-ended stay on the Mets’ injured list came because he strained his side while . . . swinging the bat. Worse, now: Jack Flaherty could miss a start at minimum for the Cardinals now that he’s got an apparent rib cage injury after he dinged it . . . swinging the bat.

As if the overall futility of pitchers swinging at the plate isn’t enough reason to implement the universal designated hitter. (Anyone who says deGrom with his .450 hitting average isn’t an outlier is either blind or willfully ignorant.) The injury risk isn’t just someone’s equally perverse fantasy.

Flaherty was pitching well enough against the Dodgers Monday evening when he batted against Trevor Bauer in the top of the sixth. He swung with a slight lunge at an outer-edge pitch on 0-1 and fouled it off, a clenched-teeth grimace very visible on his face as he swung. Then he hopped around the plate area in plain discomfort.

Cardinals manager Mike Shildt took no chances. After Flaherty struck out looking, Shildt lifted him from the game at once. With a 2.90 ERA, a 9.7 strikeout-per-nine-inning rate, and a 1.03 walks/hits per inning pitched rate, Flaherty is the one Cardinals starting pitcher above all whom Shildt cannot afford to lose for any length of time.

The good news was the Cardinals dropping a three-spot on Bauer in the inning: Justin Williams leading off with a home run off the right field foul pole; then, after Tommy Edman reached on a throwing error, Dylan Carlson hitting one over the center field fence.

The bad news was the Dodgers jumping the Cardinals bullpen for four in the bottom of the sixth to re-take the lead. Max Muncy’s one-out double against reliever Ryan Helsley was followed a base hit later by another Cardinal reliever, Genesis Cabrera, walking Cody Bellinger to load the pads, then walking Will Smith to re-tie the game at three, striking Gavin Lux out looking, but surrendering a three-run double on the fifteenth pitch to Chris Taylor before . . .

Well, now. What was that Thomas Boswell wrote two years ago about getting tired of watching rallies killed by the cop-out of pitching around competent number eight hitters to strike out the opposing pitcher? Cabrera put Dodger second baseman Zach McKinstry aboard and then struck Bauer himself out for the side. “In the AL,” Boswell wrote then, “you must pitch your way out of a jam, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

Flaherty’s batting injury threw a stone into Shildt’s gears. The righthander working in front of a hometown crowd had surrendered two runs on back-to-back solo bombs but checked in at the sixth-inning plate after wiping out eight straight Dodgers including one string of five straight strikeouts. Then Flaherty went from cruise control to road hazard with one swing.

Barring unforeseen circumstances there was no way the manager wanted to go that early to the bullpen that leads the entire Show with 120 walks this season. They’ve also walked more batters with the bases loaded (fifteen) than they’ve surrendered hits (fourteen) with ducks on the pond.

“I felt a little tightness, and it was more just felt we should check it out more than anything,” said Flaherty during a post-game press conference. “A little bit of tightness I felt, and thought it was something to bring up. More just to be safe . . . I’m sitting here just fine. I’ll get up out of this chair just fine. I’m moving around all right. I don’t ever leave games. I don’t ever come out of games. It was just something just wanted to check out.”

That’s his story, and he’s sticking to it, never mind that averaging five and two thirds innings per start this year he comes out of games, all right, just never during a working inning. He felt the little bit of tightness first while pitching the fifth. Then after swinging on that foul tick it looked like enough that Shildt decided enough was enough.

“The tightness is in the torso,” wrote the St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold, “and the concern will be that Flaherty has an injury to the oblique that could lead to a lengthy absence. He was being re-evaluated late Monday night, and it’s likely the team will have scans taken of his torso.”

If those scans show further damage than just a little tightness, it’s disaster for the Cardinals as well as for Flaherty. They’re in second place and half a game behind the Cubs in the NL Central despite the Cubs leading the Show with their current injured list population.

We’re not exactly talking about one of the great hitting pitchers here, either. Flaherty’s hitting average is .125 this season. Jacob deGrom he ain’t. Not on the mound, of course, as good as he is out there, but especially not at the plate.

The entire Cardinal pitching staff is hitting .070 this season to date. The team is fifteenth in Show for runs scored and runs allowed, but you might see them a little higher for runs scored if they didn’t have to waste plate appearances with those .070-hitting pitchers.

DeGrom’s Mets are rock bottom in the entire Show for runs allowed. They’re also at rock bottom for runs scored, alas. Think they might have a few more runs on the board if their pitchers didn’t have to drag their happy hides to the plate? The Mets’ pitchers are hitting .167 as of this morning’s stats. Remove deGrom and it wouldn’t be that high by a long shot.

You tell me which is more important to the Mets or any team—a .450-hitting pitcher who’s a too-obvious outlier among his breed? Or, a pitcher whose 0.71 ERA (with a 1.08 fielding-independent pitching rate) could hold up all season long and leave him in a league of his own? (DeGrom isn’t shown atop the leaderboards for ERA and FIP only because—with the Mets having played only 46 games, plus his IL turn—he’s pitched only 51 innings so far; or, just shy of seven innings a start.)

Commissioner Nero decided last year’s universal DH wouldn’t be this year’s at minimum. The issue will return to the table when the current collective bargaining agreement expires after this season. Some say the days of NL pitchers hitting will end there. Some say not quite yet. Those days deserve to end permanently at last.

From the end of the 20th Century’s first decade through the end of the 21st Century’s first decade, pitchers overall have hit .155. They’ve made Willy Miranda resemble Willie Mays. Do Nero and the chump contingent insisting that pitchers taking turns at the plate means “real” baseball need more evidence on behalf of ending the National League’s “traditional” refusal of the designated hitter? (Which really amounts to refusing an idea that was first hatched by one of its own owners before the turn of the 20th Century.)

Try just two items to start:

* Continuing regular-season interleague play makes a further mockery of that NL “tradition,” since pitchers have to bat when such games are played in the NL team’s park but NL pitchers get a breather at the plate when the games are played in the AL parks.

(Incidentally, 2020’s pan-damn-ically inspired irregular season was the first time the leagues tied in regular-season interleague play. Since the interleague virus was introduced in 1997, the American League has fanned the National League’s behind: 3,315-3,047. The National League has led in interleague play only four times since 1997 and not once since 2003.)

* This season’s slash line at the plate for all Show pitchers as of this morning is .108/.145/ .140. The slash line for National League pitchers at the plate as of this morning: .107/.145/.137. Now, remove deGrom from the picture—the NL’s pitchers would be hitting .101.

Go ahead, call for continuing to send outlier deGrom to the plate for a lousy six-point hike in the pitchers’ overall hitting average. In a year where nobody can really decide what to think about offense and how declined it is in the first place.

In a year when deGrom has spent time on the injured list because of a plate appearance,  Flaherty is now in danger of spending likewise because of one, and Diamondbacks pitcher Zac Gallen is missing “weeks” due to an ulnar collateral ligament strain he first incurred during late spring training . . . taking batting practise.

You want to continue risking pitcher health through non-pitching injury? You really want to continue watching pitchers not named Jacob deGrom (or even further-outlying Shohei Ohtani—who doesn’t bat on his pitching days normally and damn well shouldn’t) wasting precious outs at the plate? You really want to keep watching rallies die when the opposing pitcher pitches around your good number eight batter to strike your pitcher’s ass out?

Be my guest. If “traditionalists” don’t care about exposing themselves as baseball bigots by rejecting real evidence on behalf of lamely-excused prejudice, neither do I.

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Situation update: Jack Flaherty did indeed hit the ten-day injured list Tuesday—with an oblique strain that may keep him out more than ten days or “just a couple of weeks.” Was it worth it for a foul tick followed by a called strikeout?