Week of June 15, 2018

Mike Bibby has been working out, obviously in anticipation of his one-on-one matchup with TOB.

6 Astros Combine for a Rare Unlikely of Baseball Occurrences: The Combined No-Hitter

On June 11, 2003, 6 Houston Astros combined to no-hit the Yankees. There have been 12 combined no-hitters in baseball history. For reference, there have been 23 perfect games. It’s one thing for a single pitcher to be electric and lucky for nine innings (and more impressive, I’d say), but it’s more rare for a handful of guys to have near perfect nights on the same night.

Sweeny Murti deep dives into the Astros no-no for the The Athletic in an inning-by-inning breakdown. Roy Oswalt’s strained groin forced him out of the game in the 2nd inning, kicking off the series of unlikely events.

The Astros had a stacked bullpen in 2003. Brad Lidge, Octavio Dotel, and Billy Wagner were throwing high 90s (with Wagner regularly hitting triple digits). They shortened a game for sure.

Also, don’t sleep on the fact that this was an interleague game before interleague play was so pervasive (began in ‘97). The Yankees had never seen Lidge, Dotel, or Wagner.

The notion of the combined no-no becomes more plausible with a bullpen like that. When the Astros made it through 5 innings, then this became far more possible.

Some of my favorite bits:

A lot of guys on the team didn’t know what was going on or at stake until after the game was over! Hell, the catcher, Brad Ausmus, didn’t even know until the 6th inning when Brad Lidge entered the game. “Part of the reason it didn’t cross my mind was because there seemed to be a lot of traffic earlier in the game. There was so much going on on the bases, it didn’t even dawn on me that it might be a no-hitter.”

Nathan Bland was a reliever that had been 1 pitch away from getting into the game. If Pete Munro walks Posada on 4 pitches in the 3rd inning, Bland is pitching at Yankee Stadium in what turns out to be an 8 week major league career. When closer Billy Wagner gets up to close out a 9-0 game, Bland is pretty ticked.

Bland had made his major-league debut only one month earlier. He was perplexed — even a bit perturbed — not to be able to pitch in a game his team led by eight runs in the ninth inning.

“I honestly did not realize it was a no-hitter at the time,” Bland says. “I’m sitting there going, ‘Why are they putting Billy Wagner in?’ I don’t understand this. Is there something I’m not getting? And I turned to Ricky Stone and said, ‘Why are they putting Billy in? This isn’t a save situation!’”

Stone stared at Bland.  

“You don’t know?” he asked.

“What are you talking about?” Bland asked, staring back.

Stone wasn’t jinxing it, not now.

“I’m not saying a word,” he replied.

Bland turned away.

“A few pitches later I looked up at the scoreboard and was like — Ohhhhhh!”

After Wagner catches the final out on a grounder to Bagwell at first, the no-hitter is complete, yet the celebration is, well, muted. Also, it’s hilarious.

There was no dogpile at the mound and nobody tried lifting anyone on their shoulders. There were a few pats on the back and some high fives, but it seemed to be something in between a regular win in June and a typical no-hitter celebration.

“It was awkward is the best way to say it,” Lidge says.

And that’s because even as that last out was made, some of the players on the field didn’t know what just happened.

“I know Bagwell and Kent, those guys were clueless,” Wagner said.

And perhaps the most surprising discovery from this entire, lengthy piece: who is the winning pitcher in a no-hitter when the starter doesn’t go 5 innings. The Astros scored in the top of the first inning, so Oswalt enters the game with a lead.

Are you ready to have your mind blown? Are you? Here we go.

In any ordinary game in which the starter fails to go five innings, as Oswalt did here, the designation of “winning pitcher” becomes the decision of that game’s official scorer. It is based on who he alone deems to be the most effective relief pitcher in the game. In any ordinary game, this is fairly simple and rarely controversial. This was no ordinary game.

The official scorer gave it to Lidge that night, and I can promise you he dangles that factoid over the other guys just about every time they see each other (the epilogue indicates many of the pitchers still see each other on fishing/hunting trips and over the holidays). Lidge went two innings and entered the game with a 4-0 lead.

The scorer gave him the W (“he had the cleanest appearance” was his rationale), and now Lidge’s hat is in Cooperstown as the winning pitcher in a no-hitter.

It’s probably not the worst thing. Kirk Sarloos, who entered in the 4th, may have had a little extra help that day. “I had a little pine tar underneath the bill of my cap and that might not have been good sitting in the Hall of Fame.”

Lastly, this absolute gem. After the game the equipment manager comes into the clubhouse to get the game ball from Wagner.

“Drayton wants the ball,” Laborio said to Wagner, referring to Astros owner Drayton McLane, who was in attendance at Yankee Stadium that night.

“Well he’s not getting the ball,” Wagner told him.

Laborio wasn’t going to go back to the owner empty-handed. So Wagner walked over to a ball bag, grabbed a batting practice ball, and handed it to Laborio.

“Hey, there it is,” Wagner said.

The stories behind the historic moments are endlessly enjoyable. The pitcher who has a cup of coffee in The Show getting pissed that Billy Wagner (400+ saves) is going into a 9-0 game without knowing the circumstances, the rarely used rule giving the official scorer the dictatorial power to grant a historic win, the employee thumbing his nose at ownership. I will be happy searching and finding baseball nuggets like these for the rest of my life, thanks to writers doing the kind of work Sweeny Murti’s does on this story. – PAL

Source: “’You Dumbass, We Just Threw a No-Hitter’: The Behind-the-Scenes Story of How Six Astros Pitchers No-Hit the Yankees”, Sweeny Murti, The Athletic (June, 2018)

TOB: Damn, what a stacked bullpen.

BTW, I did know that tidbit about the winning pitcher when the starter goes less than 5 innings. It was a pretty controversial wrinkle of Game 7 of the 2014 World Series. The Giants’ starter, Hudson, struggled and Affeldt came into a 2-2 games in the bottom of the 2nd with 2 out and men on 1st and 2nd. He got a groundout to get out of the inning, then went single/double play/ground out in the 3rd and hit by pitch/double play/groundout in the 4th. Bumgarner then entered, shut down the Royals and sealed the World Series win. Controversially, the scorer gave the win to Affeldt and not Bumgarner.

Also, the two lesser-known relievers in this story demonstrate some supreme baseball player logic. The win was given to Lidge, who went 6 up, 6 down. Munro complains he should have gotten the win because he got two more outs – but he also three walks. Sarloos pitched only one inning but claims he should get the win, because he pitched the fifth and that’s the threshold the starting pitcher must meet to get the win – which is so illogical it’s hard to believe he said it with a straight face.

Finally, like Phil, my favorite part is Wagner sticking it to owner Drayton McLane.

Crawford’s So Hot, Scherzer’s Blue Eye Turned Brown

I feel a small kinship with Max Scherzer. For one, he and my son both have heterochromia iridum, though my boy does it better.

For two, the better Scherzer is, the easier it is for me to point to him when someone tries to argue Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher in the league. But when Scherzer faces the Giants, he’s an absolute menace and I hope he dies like a dog.

Last weekend, the Giants split the first two games of their series against the Nats in D.C. and headed into Sunday with Derek Lastname facing Scherzer.

That matchup did not sound like a recipe for success, but somebody forgot to tell Scherzer about Brandon Crawford. The Giants’ shortshop has been en fuego the last six weeks. He was hitting .190 heading into May, but after going 4-for-4 against the Nats on Sunday, was sitting at .338 for the season, after hitting .412 in May and (thus far) .539 in June. The dude hit .412 for a month and nearly halfway through the next month is hitting more than 125 points better! Uh, holy cow?

Among Crawford’s four hits were three off Scherzer, including a double and a 2-run homer in the fourth that proved to be the game’s only runs in a 2-0 Giants win.

The Athletic did a fantastic pitch-by-pitch breakdown of that at-bat, showing how a locked in Crawford was able to take the game’s best pitcher deep. Another great article this week from the Athletic was Eno Sarris’ look at why Madison Bumgarner has not been up to his usual standards in his first two starts of the year. The answer: His cutter is not boring in on the hands of right-handed hitters, and he’s not getting the same extension as he usually does, thus releasing his fastball farther away from home plate than he has in the past and allowing hitters more time to recognize and put the bat on it. Or perhaps you’d prefer Jayson Stark’s article on likely MLB expansion and how that could mean a drastic (and I mean drastic) realignment. All three articles are really good, and I highly suggest you shell out a few bucks and check them out, as this is the kind of great stuff you routinely get from the Athletic. -TOB

Source: Brandon Crawford Remains Red-Hot at the Plate – Even Against Max Scherzer”, Julian McWilliams, The Athletic (06/11/2018); What’s Missing for Madison Bumgarner So Far? Let’s Take a Close Look”, Eno Sarris, The Athletic (06/12/2018); How MLB Expansion Could Lead to Realignment, a New Playoff Format, a Universal DH and More”, Jayson Stark, The Athletic (06/13/2018)

PAL: How the hell does Crawford lay off that 1-2 change-up? That is a perfect pitch.

Starts over the middle of the plate, then falls off the outside corner. How you spit at that change from a guy who throws 97 is incredible.

Crawford is in his seventh full year in the majors. He’s hit over .260 just one year, which shouldn’t surprise me but it still does. He always seemed like a .300 hitter in waiting. The swing and timing has always looked consistent. He’ll cool off this season, but maybe he’s unlocked a couple components at the plate and has a .300 / 20 HR / 90 RBI year as the Giants make a run at the division title.

Annie Savoy and the Female Baseball Fan

Bull Durham came out 30 years ago this week (sheesh), and that’s a good enough reason to read Kelsey McKinney’s solid story on female baseball fans.

Her assertion:

Annie Savoy, played by Susan Sarandon in the 1988 classic baseball movie Bull Durham, is the best representation of female fandom in any sport—not because, mind you, she sleeps with players, but because she has a deep knowledge of and undeniable love for the game. There are, of course, plenty of women who worship in the Church of Baseball. But all too often, we are ignored in popular representations of the sport.

Reading this has me agreeing with McKinney. More than anything else in this movie, Savoy is active fan of a crummy, minor league team. While she takes on a player to be her lover every season, they are just side pieces. Her main squeeze in baseball. She’s more than a romantic interest of Nuke and Crash. She’s a great baseball mind, and well-read, and well-dressed, and in control and beautiful.

No wonder McKinney heaps such high praise on what Savoy represents. As an avid baseball fan, she’s lived in a world where real women fans don’t receive the respect the team and other fans give to Savoy.

At one game, I sat in front of a crew of men pretending to know what they were talking about. “Scherzer’s great and all,” one of them said to his friend referring to our three-time Cy Young winner, “but I just can’t respect a pitcher with only two pitches.” Inadvertently, I laughed. Max Scherzer has five solid pitches: a four-seam fastball, a changeup, a cutter, a curveball, and a slider. “Something funny, sweetheart?” he asked. It had been rude of me to laugh, but now engaged, I told him why. His friends laughed at him, made fun of him for being shown up by me, a woman.

I could tell dozens of these stories: about men who have relentlessly hit on me because I keep a boxscore, about men who have brushed off my opinions about the team at parties, about fellow fans who have treated me as a tourist in their home country, someone who doesn’t belong. Of course, there are exceptions. But they are exceptions, not the rule.

Bull Durham is a classic baseball movie – one of the best to be sure – but I’ve never considered one of the main reasons it’s great is the nuanced representation of the female baseball fan. McKinney’s dissection of Sarrandon’s performance as Annie Savoy is definitely a main reason why this remains a great baseball movie. – PAL

Source: Bull Durham’s Annie Savoy Is The Patron Saint Of Female Baseball Fans”, Kelsey McKinney, Deadspin (6/12/18)

A Horse Racing Triple Crown Or Other Things, from the Ground

Premise: A writer walks amongst the drunken masses of the Kentucky Derby/Indy 500/the Preakness/the Daytona 500 or the (insert your event here) and reports on the bewildering spectacle of thousands getting drunk all day under the hot sun. I am a sucker for these stories. Perhaps he didn’t do it first, but to me the best of this genre was David Foster Wallace’s 2003 article for Gourmet magazine, “Consider the Lobster”, about the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival. This year I’ve already read two good ones, one on the Indy 500 and the other on the Belmont Stakes. Here are my favorite passages from each.

First, the Indy 500:

The Indy 500 is a tale of two events. Some of its traditions are of the genteel sort that give goosebumps to enthusiasts of the 500-mile, 200-lap sprint: the singing of “Back Home in Indiana,” the public address call of “Drivers, start your engines,” the winner drinking from a glass bottle of milk, even the awkward celebrity appearances. And then there are the far less decorous customs of the Snake Pit, the general-admission interior of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where thousands get mind-numbingly wasted in the oppressive heat of a Sunday afternoon—helped along by the wildly permissive policy that allows ticket holders to stream into the venue with coolers brimming with beer and liquor.

“For lots of people,” observed a middle-aged man seated contently in the grandstands, “Indy is just a party that happens to have a race surrounding it.” Depending on which side of the Speedway’s inside wall one happens to be on, the event is either the Greatest Spectacle in Racing or the Greatest Spectacle in Drinking. The latter phrasing appeared on a T-shirt worn by a woman in the Snake Pit as she cheered on a friend willingly taking on a warped sort of ice-bucket challenge. Two men held the woman upside down by the ankles, completely submerging her head in the freezing water of a cooler for several seconds. Dazed and gasping for breath upon surfacing, she immediately shotgunned a beer before staggering backward and falling into a kiddie pool filled with still more ice and beer.

And the Belmont:

The horses disappear in the spectacle of it; very few physical feats are made more viscerally satisfying by the addition of almost 100,000 people. What you end up feeling is just the experience of being in a large, drunk crowd. That is fun enough, and made more interesting by the costume element of it all, but the Belmont Stakes isn’t even really equestrian-themed. If anything, it’s candy-colored fruit-themed and almost everyone is here for the acceptable levels of unhealthy behaviors. The horses might as well be slot machines.

Enjoy! -TOB

Source: Hell Is Real, And It’s The Infield Of The Indy 500”, Jake Malooley, Deadspin (05/29/2018); A Day at the Belmont Stakes”, Hannah Keyser, Deadspin (06/11/2018)

PAL: The Indy article basically describes my nightmare. The most unsettling part of it the article comes from spectator/drinker George Hauser: “There are six gears in Indy cars. People also have gears. When you come to the Indy 500 infield, these are a bunch of gear-six people.”

No. No. No.

Breaking Down the Tape: Umpire Tom Hallion and The New York Mets

Pretty bad language on the following video. Put some headphones on.

Found this via Deadspin, which sets up the context of the argument and the recent history between the two teams.

Utley’s notorious takeout slide in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series nuked the right fibula of Mets infielder Ruben Tejada (PAL note: Chase Utley is the guy Syndergaard throws behind). Utley was suspended for the next two games of the series, and ultimately MLB instituted what has come to be called the Chase Utley Rule, essentially banning (but not eliminating) takeout slides. Syndergaard’s pitch in 2016 was assumed to be an effort at retaliation, even all that time later. Possibly it was just a wild fastball? Either way, as you can imagine, Terry Collins was quite pissed.

My notes:

  • Umpire Tom Hallion is in complete control, but that doesn’t mean he’s unemotional. He isn’t backing down, but he isn’t fanning Collins’ flames. That is such a fine line, and he walks it perfectly.
  • Noah Syndergaard is a giant
  • Terry Collins is so mad that his speech is teetering on incoherent 
  • Favorite line from Hallion: “Our ass is in the jackpot [if] we don’t do something there.” He uses it twice, and I will now aim to use it at least twice a day. I get the gist of it, but I’ve never heard jackpot used as a negative metaphor for a negative. I love this phrase. 

Source: What Do We Think Of This Old Video Of An Umpire Handling An Extremely Pissed Terry Collins“, Chris Thompson, Deadspin (6/12/18)

Videos of the Week

PAL Song of the Week: Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real – “Find Yourself”

Tweet of the Week

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Actually, I didn’t think it was appropriate to invite children, since it’s uh, you know, there’s gambling and alcohol, it’s in our dangerous warehouse, it’s a school night, and you know, Hooter’s is catering, and is that- is that enough? Should I keep going?

-Toby Flenderson, HR

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