Writing on the Double Yellow Line

Militant moderate, unwilling to concede any longer the terms of debate to the strident ideologues on the fringe. If you are a Democrat or a Republican, you're an ideologue. If you're a "moderate" who votes a nearly straight party-ticket, you're still an ideologue, but you at least have the decency to be ashamed of your ideology. ...and you're lying in the meantime.

Location: Illinois, United States

Saturday, November 05, 2016

One Oh Eight

The One-Oh-Eight That Nearly Wasn't
©2016  Ross Williams

I seriously don't have what it takes to be a decent manager of a decent baseball team.  I'm far too temperamental.  I'm far too easily provoked.  I'm far too intolerant of pitchers who can't find the strike zone, hitters who don't recognize pitches that are outside the strike zone when they flail at the plate, and umpires who refuse to call the strike zone as defined by the rulebook.  Ask my wife.

The most common phrases heard at my house — and for several hundred yards around it —during baseball season are "Throw the goddam ball over the goddam plate!  The plate is the white thing laying on the ground!!"  "What in the hell are you swinging at?!"  And … well, let's just say I exercise the hell out of the profane sections of my vocabulary when I scream at umpires.  I would do the same from the dugout and probably all over the field if I were a manager.

I am cut from the mold of Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella, so it's not simply loud profanities which would be all flying over the field.  Bats, balls, bases, helmets, clipboards …  Umpires who refused to do their job at enforcing the rulebook as written in preference to their own inept comprehension of it would be particularly at risk.  Clue, boys: knees to nipples over the plate.  If you can't see a pitch and project the spatial geometry of the strike zone in relation to it, then perhaps a bat to the back of your skull would help.  Frankly, it couldn't hurt.

There'd be only a handful of umpires left standing at the end of a season with me as a manager.  But for some reason, demanding that umpires follow the rules they are there to impose on others is considered bad form.  I wouldn't last a season, but I'd make a mark — not to mention a few dents — and be entertaining as hell.

I'd probably also inspire open revolt among the players under me.  For some other reason, players paid multiple millions of dollars to consistently throw a ball through an invisible rectangle suspended above a white pentangle, or hit a ball thrown through same, or hit the cutoff man, et cetera, don't like being screamed at because they cannot consistently do what they are being paid multiple millions of dollars to do.  And — after all — it ain't my manager's money they are being paid under false pretenses, is it?

So to anyone wanting to bitch and whine at me because I think I know so much more than managers that I can do their job for them, you can keep it to yourselves.  I've already conceded that I don't.

But I'm a Cubs fan.  Have been since I was 7 years old in '68 and I went to my first real baseball game at Wrigley.  The Cubs lost — to the Giants, I recall.  As a Cubs fan I'm used to having the rug pulled out from under me.  Sixty-nine was a vague blur in my childhood.  Eighty-four was appalling, losing to a clearly inferior Padres team due to panicked ineptitude.  But if the inferior Padres could take the pennant in '84, the Cubs could take it in '89 from the superior Giants — the only team I actually loathe.  Nope; couldn't.  Ninety-eight was a Cinderella dance.  But '03 … more panicked ineptitude.  Oh-four, the bloom was off the rose and they were simply not as good.  Oh-seven and -eight, the superior Cubs lost to inferior others due, in no small part, to astoundingly inept umpiring that should have resulted in occipital contusions bearing the "Louisville Slugger" imprint, — and would have had I been in a position to accomplish it.

Twenty-fifteen was a really good team finding its feet.  They made a pathetic showing against the inferior Mets in the Pennant series, and I refused to watch any of the games after the first two inning of game one, simply because I didn't need the aggravation it would cause.  They can lose without me, I told my wife who, gamely, put up with watching them on TV.  And lose they did.  She'd come to bed and jostle me awake; I'd ask how bad it was, she'd tell me.  We'd go to sleep.

Twenty-sixteen, however, was The Year.  They were clearly the superior team in all of baseball, even — arguably — in historical comparison.  They had the pitching, they had the hitting, and they had the nerve to generally ignore the panic that sets in during pivotal games and the crucial times within them.  And that is the consequence, in truly major fashion, of the not-me-like manager they have: Joe Maddon.

"Trust your guys" is what Maddon preaches.  For 161 games of the regular season [one was rained out and not rescheduled], for 4 games in the division series [bad name for the first round] and 6 games of the Pennant series, he practiced that philosophy.  Hell, even for the first five games of the World Series, "Trust your guys" was going strong.  Even when they got shut out 1-0 by a third-rate starter who, by all accounts, should have given up four runs for every six he pitched against the hitting the Cubs have.

The Cubs were down three games to one going into the final World Series game at Wrigley, where they'd dropped two straight in pathetic fashion.  Maddon, trusting his guys, led them to win game 5 by a score of 3-2.  Back to Cleveland.  And Maddon stopped trusting his guys.  He indicated a single-minded devotion to the pitching tandem of Arrieta and Chapman prior to the game, apparently forgetting that he'd used Chapman — a one-inning guy — for two and a third in game 5. 

Arrieta was spectacular in game 6 — the hitting was even better; he pitched into the seventh and had two on with two out and looked to be running out of steam.  In the Six Degrees of Separation game, we stand at 3 with Jake Arrieta: he is the cousin of the wife of our Orkin guy.  With Arrieta limping to get out of the seventh and with a 5-run lead, Maddon had an entire bullpen at his disposal, some of which hadn't seen action in the Series, and most of whom had seen very little.  Any one of them is capable of getting one out and possibly pitching until ineffectiveness in the 8th or 9th inning in order to save bullets for the now-virtually-inevitable Game Seven.

But no.  Maddon's single-minded devotion to Arrieta/Chapman, despite a 5-run lead, was not about to change.  Circumstances be damned.  The fact that he'd just used his one-inning guy in three innings two days before, and had a well-rested bullpen besides, didn't alter that.  Arrieta, then Chapman.  "Trust"?  Pfffsh!

So in comes Chapman — the one-inning guy — to pitch his fourth and fifth innings in three days.  He starts leaking, exactly as I knew would happen.  "Maddon is trying to 'cute' his way to disaster" is how I described it — fairly loudly — on my way upstairs to seethe in front of the mlb.com version of the game and spare my wife the profanity of me being in the same room.  The first step of the three-step plan to lose the series by overthinking it.

An inning later the Cubs added two and the Indians added one and the final score was 9-3.  It was a blowout that had not needed the closer to do more than emerge from the dugout at the end and high-five the team coming off the field.  Yet he had pitched another inning and a third, spanning two innings.  I was glad the Cubs were going to Game Seven, but fearful of the consequences if it wasn't another blowout and the one-inning closer was actually needed for his role.

The scuttlebutt prior to the final game of the Series was Maddon's selection of Hendricks/Lester/Chapman as his preselected pitchers.  I immediately got chills. 

The Cubs were up 5-1 in the bottom of the 5th, and Hendricks walked a guy with two out.  Never mind that ball 3 was a grooved change-up that an umpire who knew the strike-zone would have called for the final out of the inning.  A feeling of dread came over me as Maddon emerged from the dugout.  "Give him five, give him five…" I muttered at the TV.  "He's doing great."

Discussion on the mound, all too brief.  Dread turned to nausea.  "He's one out from qualifying!  There's a four-run lead!!" I screamed.  Maddon took the ball, he signaled for the lefty.  I felt ill.  Step two of the three step plan to lose the series by overthinking.  I stomped upstairs to fume in front of mlb.com.  Is this how you trust your guys, Joe?

Sure enough, Lester — despite being the legitimate ace that he is, but unused to relieving and cold in what would be his between-start side-session day — allowed another runner on a twenty-foot dribbler that Grandpa Ross, now in as the personal catcher for Jon, yanked down the right field line.  Two outs and runners on second and third.  For godsake, if that's what you wanted, Hendricks could have done that!!  Then came the wild pitch that managed to get thrown, oh, all of 45 feet before it plowed into the turf and caromed like a pinball behind home plate.  Two runs — yes, two — scored on that monumental  ineptitude.

Jon Lester got the third out, settled in to pitch three full and — the end of the fifth notwithstanding — otherwise good innings, Ross hit his career-ending homerun in his first at-bat.   I came back downstairs to watch the game on TV.  The Cubs were up 6-3 in the 8th when Lester — on his off-day — wore out.  Apparently he wore out, anyway … he gave up a two out grounder that went for an infield hit.  I say "apparently" because, as with Hendricks in the 5th, Lester was one out from pushing it to the next inning  and was, despite having a runner on, doing quite well.

Maddon emerged from the dugout.  I immediately felt ill.  Step three of the three-step plan to blow the series by overthinking.  He's going to bring in Chapman — the one-inning guy who's thrown three and two-thirds over the last three days, spanning five innings.  I was incoherent in rage.  "Trust your guys"???  Even my normally placid wife was up and pacing in what passes for disgust in her cool demeanor.  "He's getting too cute," she muttered.  I grabbed a melatonin from the cupboard because otherwise I'd be too agitated to sleep for the next several days; I stomped upstairs, and caught, on mlb.com, Chapman giving up Lester's base runner, and then a two-run homer to tie the game.  Exactly what I expected out of a one-inning guy who'd been used four times too much over the past three days. …when the rest of the bullpen had been used not-at-all.

I stomped and shouted, livid, watching as once again the rug was being pulled out from under me.  They can lose without me.  Thank you, Joe, for trusting your guys.  It could have been a 6-3 game into the 9th by letting Lester finish the 8th.  It could have been 5-1, with Hendricks getting the resume- and confidence-padder of a World Series victory if you'd have waited another out before pulling the starter.  Several relievers could have gotten a jolt out of throwing a few pitches if they'd been called on in the game-6 blow-out, and who knows, you might have discovered a thing or two about some of them.

I went to bed.  With a melatonin in me and being emotionally drained, I fell asleep.  At some point my wife came in the room.  "Are they done losing?" I asked.  She looked annoyed but didn't say anything.  I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Some time later I was awoken from fitful dreams of unlikely alternate and heroic endings to Game Seven by a piercing "WHOOOOO HOO!" coming from downstairs.  I stumbled down the steps to see on TV the Cubs players crawling all over each other in the middle of the diamond.  "What the hell happened?" I asked, still two-thirds asleep.  My wife was misty-eyed and couldn't speak.  I heard the insufferable Joe Buck prattling away saying who-knows- [and who-cares-] what, and watched a slow-motion replay of Kris Bryant grabbing a grounder, heaving it and sprawling, and then Anthony Rizzo bounding into the air.  I saw the final score — 8-7.  Cubs.

No shit?

The Cubs won despite the distrust shown in them over the last two games by the guy who manages by trusting his guys.  I'll be damned.  As it turns out, the bullpen needed to be used after all, the rest of the guys needed to be trusted, and they pulled it out.  We rewound the DVR by a full inning.

You needed to trust your philosophy, Joe.  You needed to trust your guys.  It didn't need to be this difficult.  You're the better manager and I shouldn't need to remind you of this.  Don't let it happen again.


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