One Oh Eight
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.
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!
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.