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Friday Rewind: Snakes Alive
Lots of baseball to talk about—and I still owe you a few words on the Browns’ big win—so let’s get to it!
Arizona 2, Philadelphia 1 (Phillies lead NLCS 2-1)
What is this? A close game? A game decided in the late innings? Is this even allowed? This must be what it looks like when both starting pitchers — in this case, Philadelphia’s Ranger Suárez and Arizona’s Brandon Pfaadt — are dealing. We had not had a full-on starting pitcher’s duel in this postseason; the closest was probably Game 1 of Texas-Houston, between Justin Verlander and Jordan Montgomery, but even in that one, Verlander gave up a couple of runs.
To have both starting pitchers last into the sixth inning without giving up a run? It’s the 2023 version of Marichal-Spahn.*
*There was some consternation about Arizona manager Torey Lovullo pulling Pfaadt with two outs and nobody on in the fifth inning simply because he didn’t want Pfaadt to face the Phillies order a third time. Pfaadt had allowed only three hits and he struck out nine, and absolutely, I get it, but the baseball traditionalist in me really disliked that move. Then again, if he’d left Pfaadt in to allow back-to-back home runs to Kyle Schwarber and Trea Turner, I imagine the baseball strategist in me would have really disliked THAT move, and would have said, “You CANNOT let Brandon Pfaadt face the order a third time in a game that you have to win.”
This is the trouble with how baseball has evolved. It used to be that the best pitcher you had each day was your starter, and so you rode that starter until you could not anymore. That was a compelling kind of baseball. Now, as the game goes along, the starter might be your third or fourth-best available option — especially after he has faced the order once or twice — and so you hope your starter can get you into the middle innings, when you can get your one-inning flame-throwers to bring you home. That is, I think, less compelling baseball. But this is where we are.
The Phillies got their run in the seventh, when Bryce Harper, who had walked, scored on a truly wild pitch that Ryan Thompson threw about three feet outside.
The Diamondbacks scored their first run in the seventh, after Philadelphia manager Rob Thompson, for unclear reasons, brought in rookie Orion Kerkering. And look, Kerkering is a really cool story — fifth-round pick in the 2022 draft, lots of issues about his command (he went 5-7 with a 5.72 ERA at South Florida), started this season in low-Class A Clearwater, pitched his way through FOUR minor league stops, all the way to the big leagues, threw three innings for the Phillies without giving up an earned run and had pitched four scoreless innings in the playoffs — but this didn’t seem the time nor place.
The first time he came into a postseason game, the Phillies led 7-0.
The second time he came into a postseason game, the Phillies led 2-0 and had already used their best relievers, José Alvarado and Seranthony Dominguez.
The third time he came into a postseason game, the Phillies led 8-2.
The fourth time he came into a postseason game, he closed out a 10-0 victory.
This time it was 1-0, seventh inning, Dominguez and Alvarado were both available … it’s, well, here’s what Thompson said: “The moment’s not too big for him … we knew, in that part of the lineup, there probably were going to be some left-handers pinch-hitting. He’s really good on left-handers.”
OK. It is true that none of the seven left-handers he faced in his three regular-season big-league innings got a hit off of him. It’s also true that it was just seven batters, and he’s 22 years old, and, well, it didn’t work. Tommy Pham singled. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. doubled him in to tie the game. Then, lefty pinch-hitter Pavin Smith, who hit .188 this season, hit a line-drive single to rightfield.
Then, and only then, Thompson went to Alvarado, who got out of the jam and pitched a shaky but scoreless eighth inning. Going with Kerkering there was certainly a questionable move. And it’s fun to second-guess a manager again; there have been so few competitive games this postseason, it’s like we almost forgot how to do it.
Anyway, I’m not sure any of that mattered, because the Phillies went with 35-year-old closer Craig Kimbrel in the ninth with the game still tied 1-1, and I’m not sure Kimbrel could have protected any kind of lead. There have been many days through the years when Kimbrel has looked unbeatable, certainly, but there are also days like Thursday, when, yikes, well, you know that Alfred Hitchcock quote about the difference between suspense and surprise? He said that surprise happens if you’re watching two people have a conversation about baseball (Hitchcock hated baseball) and suddenly a bomb under the table goes off. That’s a surprise.
Suspense is if you’re watching the same conversation (perhaps about the pros and cons of pitching Kerkering in the seventh inning), only in this case you KNOW there’s a bomb under the table, you saw someone plant it there, and you know that it’s going off at 1 p.m., and you can see on the clock that it’s 12:45, and you see these guys second-guessing Rob Thomson, and you’re thinking, “Come on, he had to pitch someone, and also there’s a BOMB about to go off!” And that’s suspense.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I imagine Philadelphia fans, like me, just KNEW that the Kimbrel bomb was going to go off. He came out unable to find the strike zone. After working his way back to a full count against Gurriel, he issued the walk. Then, he wasn’t paying any attention at all as Gurriel stole second by taking off BEFORE KIMBREL EVEN PITCHED.* Then he gave up an infield single to Pavin Smith, nothing to be done about that, and Smith took second base on defensive indifference, and then, after Emmanuel Rivera hit a hot ground ball but right at drawn-in shortstop Trea Turner, Kimbrel walked Geraldo Perdomo to load the bases.
Both his walks, it should be said, were battles, but the point was that he couldn’t get strike three. For one of the all-time great strikeout pitchers, that was telling.
Finally, Kimbrel faced Ketel Marte, and got ahead of the count 0-1. He threw his 96-mph fastball up and probably a touch out of the zone. But Marte got enough of it and knocked it into centerfield for a walk-off single that had more juice on it than Luis Gonzalez’s classic broken bat hit off Mariano Rivera in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series … but evoked that hit anyway. The Diamondbacks are back in the series.
Happy Friday! The Rewind is free so everyone can enjoy it. Just a reminder that Joe Blogs is a reader-supported newsletter, and I’d love and appreciate your support.
Houston 10, Texas 3 (ALCS is tied 2-2)
There was a brief moment in the third inning when it seemed this game might also be close. José Abreu put an end to such foolishness in the fourth, when he launched a seven-million-foot home run, and once again the Astros are doing their Glenn-Close-in-the-bathtub impression from “Fatal Attraction.” They will not be ignored.
I will admit here and now that I doubted these Astros after the first two games — Brandon McCarthy and I were talking about how the lineup didn’t seem nearly as potent as Kyle Tucker and others struggled — and I guess my penance must be admitting that Mike Schur immediately chastised us both and texted three days ago: “I’m going to remind you of this when they score 12 runs and come back to make it 2-2.”
It was 10 runs, Mike, so there!
But, uh, yeah, crow served, crow eaten.
I know I’ve written a bit about this before … but Jose Altuve is such a marvel. Many people will always associate him with the cheating scandal, even if his role in it is not clear, and this has overshadowed the fact that he’s 5-foot-6 (maybe), and he’s a three-time batting champion and is a lifetime .307 hitter and he’s hit 209 home runs and stolen almost 300 bases, and he has now hit TWENTY-FIVE postseason home runs, second only to MannyBManny.
Most postseason homers
Manny Ramirez, 29
Jose Altuve, 25
Bernie Williams, 22
Derek Jeter, 20
Albert Pujols and George Springer, 19
We should probably mention how weird it is that the Astros were so much better on the road this year. It’s truly wild — they went 52-30 on the road but only 39-42 at home. They ‘re trying to become the first team to ever reach the World Series with a losing home record. They had a .798 OPS on the road; it was 62 points lower at home. They had a 4.25 ERA at home; it was more than a half run better on the road.
I don’t know that there’s any easy explanation for it. You would expect the Astros, of all teams, to be better at home, considering that they get booed everywhere they go once they leave Houston. I don’t know: Maybe they thrive on the boos. Maybe Rangers fans should try to turn the tables by cheering the Astros tonight.
Anyway, whatever the reason, the Astros look like a totally different team in Arlington than they did in Houston. I’ll think twice before doubting them again.
Hey, if you feel like it, I’d love if you’d share this post with your friends!
A New Hall of Fame Ballot is Out!
Well, the exclamation point in the headline is probably not necessary — this is the Contemporary Baseball Era ballot for managers/executives/umpires. So, you know, it’s not THAT exciting. But you would have to assume that somebody from this ballot will get elected — maybe multiple somebodies — so let’s take a quick glance, and we’ll come back to it after the postseason.
Cito Gaston: 894-837, .516, 2 pennants, 2 World Series titles
Davey Johnson: 1,372-1,071, .562, 1 pennant, 1 World Series title
Lou Piniella: 1,835-1,713, .517, 1 pennant, 1 World Series title
Jim Leyland: 1,769-1,728, .507, 3 pennants, 1 World Series title
Cito Gaston: Hey, it’s nice to see Cito on here. He managed the Blue Jays for all or part of 12 seasons, and two of those seasons ended with World Series titles. Blink reaction — Cito’s overall career was not quite substantial enough for Cooperstown, but it’s nice for him to be remembered as the winner that he was.
Davey Johnson: I’m a Davey guy. He managed the first big-league team I ever wrote about on a daily basis, the 1994 and ’95 Cincinnati Reds, and I learned so much just watching him operate. He managed five teams, and had a winning record with all of them. Also, I think Davey was the best player among the four manager candidates. Blink reaction — Johnson has been on the ballot twice before and received very little support. I’m sure I’ll write about Johnson and Lou Piniella as we get closer to the vote, but there’s a clear leaning toward Sweet Lou among past voters, and I expect that again.
Jim Leyland: It’s going to be very interesting to see how the voters consider the managers now that Leyland has been added to the Johnson/Piniella mix. Blink reaction — I’ve talked to a lot of people around baseball who see Leyland as a slam-dunk Hall of Famer. I guess it depends if you think his three pennants separate him enough from Piniella (who won more games) and Johnson (who had a significantly higher winning percentage).
Lou Piniella: Third time on the ballot for Sweet Lou. Blink reaction — He fell just one vote shy of election in 2019 (that weird year when Harold Baines was elected) and you would have to think the voters won’t leave him hanging again.
Hank Peters: Peters, who had a long and admirable 42-year career, was with the Browns and Reds, he was the GM for Charlie Finley and the Kansas City Athletics when they began building the threepeat dynasty of the early 1970s, he was in Cleveland, building bad baseball teams with Gabe Paul for a while, and he was hired to run the Orioles in 1975, eventually leading to the 1983 World Series victory. Blink reaction — Meaning no offense to a good baseball man, I don’t see Hall of Fame here. I can think of several other executives I would have put in this spot.
Bill White: Fantastic player — eight-time All-Star, the heart and soul of the 1960s Cardinals. Then became a broadcaster. Then became president of the National League. Blink reaction — Bill White is the prototype of the sort of person I think the Hall of Fame should be considering more, someone who excelled in any number of roles and just lived an exemplary baseball life. I don’t have a good feel for how the voters will respond.
Ed Montague: He was crew chief for four World Series, and he was behind the plate for three All-Star Games. Blink reaction — Don’t really have one. I think Ed Montague was pretty widely respected. His father, Eddie, played in the big leagues in the 1930s and as a scout he’s credited with signing Willie Mays, which, you know, I’d put that pretty high on the resume.
Joe West: He umpired more games than anybody ever (5,460). Blink reaction — I’m not going to lie, my blink reaction was “Joe West? What? Country Joe West? The Hall of Fame? Joe West?” But he did umpire more games than anyone, and he’s probably the most famous umpire of the last 75 years so … well, we’ll talk about it later.
WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL Updates
Happy to say that WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL will be entering its THIRD printing, which is super-exciting for two reasons:
Obviously, that means the book is selling great.
This means that several typos and mistakes that were in the first edition are fixed now! Thank you for sending those errors in (and sending them and sending them and sending them). I can tell you now that there was a mixup (by me) just before the book went to press and corrections I had didn’t get made. In other words: Yes, I’m well aware that A-Rod is not in the Hall of Fame and that Bob Gibson did not pitch in the 1978 World Series.
Tour stops — really looking forward to seeing you all out there:
— On Thursday, Oct. 26, I’ll be in Dallas. Tickets are $10.
— On Wednesday, Nov. 1, I’ll be in Nashville with Country Music Hall of Famer Marty Stuart. Tickets are $44, but include a signed and personalized book (and a chance to ask Marty about Johnny Cash or pretty much anyone else; he knows everybody).
— On the morning of Sunday, Nov. 5, I’ll be in Rockville, Md. — just outside of Washington, D.C. — for a bagels and baseball breakfast bonanza. Tickets are $18, but I believe will include the bagels.
— On Monday, Nov. 6, I’ll be in Cherry Hill, N.J. — just outside of Philadelphia. Tickets are $15. All Phillies talk, good and bad, will be included in the price.
— On Wednesday, Nov. 8, I’ll be in Atlanta. Tickets are $22 (or $18 for members of the Atlanta JCC).
— On Sunday, Nov. 12, I’ll be at Shorty’s Back Forty in Toledo, which, I mean, it’s a great name. Tickets are $18, but include what looks to be a delicious dinner, or $40 with a signed book included.
— On Wednesday, Nov. 14, I’ll be in Houston. Tickets range from $16 to $41. Will I be talking about another Houston World Series? Could be.
Quick Browns Diary
I apologize up front. I have started the heavy lifting, researching and writing of my upcoming football book, and it’s pretty consuming, and as you can see from above, there’s a whole lot going on with WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL (including one really exciting possibility that I will share with you as soon as I can), and there’s the baseball playoffs happening and … well, let’s just say there’s a whole lot going on over the next three months, and I hope you’ll indulge me a little bit as I continue to try and be the most prolific newsletter writer in the nation.
In other words: Sorry that this week’s Cleveland Browns diary will only be a couple of paragraphs. The game deserves a lot more than that — the Browns’ 19-17 victory over the 49ers is, I believe, the most unlikely Browns victory of my lifetime.
I would say the previous most unlikely Browns victory of my lifetime was not a victory at all — it was when a dentist named Dave Mays ALMOST brought the Browns all the way back from a 35-10 deficit against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. In that wild game, Mays threw three fourth-quarter touchdown passes to a local kid named Larry Poole, and even though the Browns lost the game 35-28, I’ve always thought of it as a win.
The Browns did actually win Sunday’s game, even though the 49ers are a billion times better, even though the Browns started P.J. Walker at quarterback (their 36th different starting quarterback), even though their best player, Nick Chubb, is out for the season, even though their unwavering superhero, guard Joel Bitonio, missed his first game since, I think, the days when he was blocking for Marion Motley. Seriously, Bitonio had played 6,846 snaps before missing this one.
The Browns needed some calls to go their way, they needed the 49ers to play poorly, they needed San Francisco kicker Jake Moody to miss a 41-yard field goal in the final seconds … but all that happened.
And more than that — more than any of it — this Browns defense is ridiculously, absurdly, fantastically good. I’ve been saying it since Week 1, and I’m hearing other people say it a whole lot now: This is a Super Bowl defense. Myles Garrett is unblockable. The other defensive end, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, is soooooo good — six Os for the six Os in his name. Cornerback Denzel Ward is getting close to “DO NOT THROW THIS WAY” level. Safety Grant Delpit is everywhere. And coordinator Jim Schwartz has them playing at this super-hyped level.
What I’ve seen — always from afar — is that when you have a scary-good defense, stuff sometimes just goes your way. We Clevelanders have seen it again and again with the Steelers and the Ravens, year after year, they win multiple games they have no business winning because that defense relentlessly pounds on you and wears you down and does that Dementor thing of stealing your hope and joy, and then, at the end, stuff happens — weird stuff sometimes, unfair stuff sometimes, lucky stuff sometimes — and they walk away with the victory.
That’s what happened last Sunday. I don’t know what’s happening with the offense, though. The quarterback they traded three first-round picks and their souls for, Deshaun Watson, might play Sunday against the Colts, he might not play Sunday, nobody’s saying, it depends on how he feels, depends on how the coaches feel … no, let’s be honest, it just depends on how he feels.
The Browns don’t need him to be great. What’s happening now is this defense is so good, the Browns just need an offense that can run some clock, not turn the ball over, take advantage of some breaks, etc. It’s the early 2000s New England Patriots strategy. We’ll see how it goes in Indy.
JoeBlogs Week in Review
Monday: All that matters is now.
Tuesday: It’s getting late early.
Wednesday: These are the days, Philadelphia.
Thursday: Same old train.