December 4, 2013
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Monday, August 20, 2012
Games lasting 19 innings are pretty rare in baseball, so fans take notice when they happen. When they happen to the same franchise in consecutive seasons, each at what could be considered a pivotal point in its season, that's when I take notice.
On July 26, 2011, the Pittsburgh Pirates were experiencing unaccustomed success. Not only were they six games over .500, they shared the NL Central lead with the Cardinals. With the first game of a four-game set in Atlanta safely won the previous day, Pittsburgh was looking to maintain the pace in the marathon of the season. What the Pirates got was a marathon of a game. They built a 3-0 lead early, but the Braves rallied to tie it in the third.
And then everyone just stopped scoring runs.
Fifteen and a half innings of goose eggs later, Atlanta mounted a rally in the bottom of the 19th, getting runners to second and third with one out. Scott Proctor hit a grounder to third, and Julio Lugo broke for the plate. Pedro Alvarez gloved it and threw home, Michael McKenry applied the tag, and the majority of witnesses—in person, on TV, and in the myriad replays to come—saw Lugo get put out.
But home plate umpire Jerry Meals formed a majority of one, and he called Lugo safe.
In retrospect, it was the end of the Pirates' season. It began a 1-12 string that sent Pittsburgh plummeting out of first and below the .500 mark, never to get close to it again that year. They went 19-53 from the "Jerry Meals game" onward. The drought of Pittsburgh futility that began in Game Seven of the 1992 NLCS would continue. The Pittsburgh faithful (and faith is what it had to be by this point) would tie the collapse to this one game.
Step forward in time 13 months. On Aug. 19, 2012, the Pittsburgh Pirates were experiencing unaccustomed success. They were 12 games over .500, and while a hot Reds squad was six and a half games in front for the division lead, the new Wild Card system had Pittsburgh in position for postseason play, barely. Should the Cardinals win the rubber game of their weekend series, St. Louis would tie the Bucs, and a Dodgers win would put the Cardinals in the final slot, and Pittsburgh on the outside looking in.
St. Louis drew first blood with two in the fourth. Pittsburgh knotted it up in the visitors' sixth. And then, for 10 1/2 innings, everyone just stopped scoring runs. The teams traded singletons in the 17th, and the game went on toward its destined 19th. No controversy this time, though. Pedro Alvarez, would-be hero from the last time, homered to push Pittsburgh ahead. Superstar in bloom Andrew McCutchen drove in two insurance runs, and Wandy Rodriguez (wait, wasn't he supposed to start today?) slammed the door hard.
The coincidence of a 19-inning Pittsburgh game in a heating-up playoff push caught my eye late last evening. To say that it caught the eye of the Pirates and their fans is an understatement. The Pirates' fansite Bucs Dugout headlined the game recap by asking "Curse of Jerry Meals Vanquished?" Others have observed that this is the first time the Bucs have won a 19-inning game on the road since 1979—the last time they won the World Series. As demoralizing as last year's defeat was, this win was just as uplifting.
Will this be a mirror-image of history? It's dangerous to argue that an entire season can pivot on one game in summer, and this kind of "destiny" narrative is a lot easier to see with perfect hindsight than right in the middle of things, when you don't know the wins and losses to come.
But if Yogi Berra was right and 90 percent of the game is half mental, the Pirates just gained something bigger than one tally in the wins column. They took a game that could have had their team, their whole fanbase, saying "Aw, here we go again," and flipped it on its head. Instead of a mindset that lends itself all too easily to, well, here we go again, they've got an attitude that they've broken with the past. And for the Pittsburgh Pirates, that can only be good.
Predictions are difficult, especially about the future. (Was it Yogi who said that, too?) A friend of mine once advised that a good prognosticator is never too specific, so he can't have his misses hung around his neck. But it's also true that one solid hit can make your reputation: famed "psychic" Jeane Dixon nailed maybe one prediction in her career, but since it was the Kennedy assassination, she had a guaranteed spot in the National Enquirer for life.
I'm going for it. The Pirates make the playoffs, and I'm giving yesterday's game all the credit. It may not be an accurate narrative even if they make it, but I'm wagering it's the one the anecdote writers will be churning out in the years to come.
And when you consider how long it's been since someone could bet on Pittsburgh and not immediately be carted off to the loony bin—pardon me as I nervously glance over my shoulder—you have to count the Pirates as winners already. Even if it did take 19 innings.
Pirates 6, Cardinals 3: For the second straight year the Pirates play a 19-inning game. This time, unlike the game against the Braves in which they were royally screwed, the Pirates won. Thank you Pedro Alvarez and Andrew McCutchen who drove in runs in the 19th, Alvarez with a homer. They had to burn Wandy Rodriguez for a couple of innings in this one even though he was supposed to start today, but a game against the Cardinals is worth way more to Pittsburgh than a game against the Padres. Eight shutout innings from Jaime Garcia ended up not mattering, but they weren't meaningless either.
Giants 7, Padres 1: At least I think that's the right score. I was directed to a scores website I had never seen before that showed the Giants as having one. Let me check the site's info for a second ... MELKY!
Yankees 4, Red Sox 3: Two homers for Ichiro, three hits for Jetes and eight strong innings from Hiroki Kuroda. That was the second time this season Ichiro has hit two homers in a game. Not bad for a guy who has only 102 in 12 years. I missed this game, unfortunately, as I spent all evening texting my girlfriend from Adrian Gonzalez's phone. Which makes about as much sense as anything else I've heard this week.
Phillies 8, Brewers 0: Kyle Kendrick threw eight shutout innings, striking out seven. This game had a rain delay. In Milwaukee. Where they have a retractable roof. That makes sense.
Rockies 3, Marlins 2: For the first time on seven games in Coors Field, Giancarlo Stanton didn't homer. Colorado has won five of seven.
Mariners 5, Twins 1: The M's sweep the Twins. We're starting to get to the point of the season where I ask myself whether if I got the scores of these meaningless games wrong -- like, as an accident, not for yuks like I did with the Padres-Giants score -- would anyone notice. I'm guessing not.
Diamondbacks 8, Astros 1: Obviously Tony DeFrancesco isn't the answer. Bring back Larry Dierker! Aaron Hill homered twice.
Athletics 7, Indians 0: Yesterday was apparently "pitcher throws eight shutout innings day." Jarrod Parker did it too. Another nightmare road trip for Cleveland, now 1-5 on the current nine-game jaunt out west.
Nationals 5, Mets 2: Gio Gonzalez wins his 16th game, setting a Nats team record. Bryce Harper tripled and homered. He homered on Friday night too -- I was there and it was fun -- so it looks like maybe he's heating up, bro.
Rays 8, Angels 3: The Rays sweep the Angels. So: your team has a big payroll after signing Pujols and Wilson in the offseason, you call up the best rookie since, I dunno, Fred Lynn, and you trade for Zack Greinke at the deadline. And yet you find yourself nine games out of first and four and a half out of the wild card, with four teams above you? Yeah, that's the kind of thing that could get you fired, Mike Scioscia.
Dodgers 5, Braves 0: Chad Billingsley pitched seven shutout innings and is now 6-0 since the break. The Dodgers move into first with that Giants loss. The Braves go to D.C. to face the Nats. Big series for them.
Royals 5, White Sox 2: Jeremy Guthrie flirted with a no-no, but mild controversy intervened. Eh, I've seen that kind of play called a hit in the past. It happens.
Reds 5, Cubs 4: The Reds won ugly, because of some bad defense. Dusty Baker actually asked this after the game: "Is there stink on the field?" Well, if it is on the field, that's gotta be an improvement as far as Dusty is concerned.
Rangers 11, Blue Jays 2: Michael Young drove in five runs with a three-run homer and a two-run double. It was Young's first homer in 88 games.
Orioles 7, Tigers 5: Everyone's been saying the Orioles are going to collapse eventually. But what happens if they don't collapse? Here they found themselves down 5-0 after the first inning yet didn't pack it in. They may not pack it in all year.
Twenty years ago today, David Wells was hung out to dry. He endured one of the worst starts of any pitcher ever. By the time it was over, he’d posted the worst Game Score by any baseball pitcher in 30 years. It still is easily the worst start in the history of the Toronto Blue Jays.
On Aug. 20, 1992, Wells was the starting pitcher for Toronto on the road against the Brewers. He actually got off to a good start on the day, fanning the leadoff batter and retiring the side in order in the first inning, but it was all downhill from there.
The second inning didn’t get off to too bad a start. He retired two of the first three batters, surrendering a double to the other one. Getting five of the first six batters out is a nice way to start a game. He’d retire just seven of the next 23, though, which is rather far from nice.
With two outs, Wells walked Milwaukee’s Kevin Seitzer on five pitchers. Then he hit B.J. Surhoff with a pitch to load the bases. Infielder Scott Fletcher then swatted a double to score the first pair. However, it also ended the inning, as Toronto nailed Surhoff at the plate when he tried to score from first. Wells needed every break he was going to get.
Still, when Wells began the bottom of the third, he was only down 2-1. Eh, not for long. After a leadoff flyout, the Brewers made him look foolish with two walks, a double, a triple, and three stolen bases. Two of the swipes came on a double steal. With a runner on third and still just one out, Wells regained enough of his composure to induce a pair of grounders to strand the would-be Brewer run just 90 feet from home. But three more had scored, and it was 5-1.
The fourth inning began with a single and a pair of doubles to give Milwaukee a 7-2 lead. So far, you could understand Toronto’s willingness to ride Wells. The first two innings weren’t that bad, but he’d been lit up a bit in the second, even more in the third, and was getting crushed here again in the fourth. But there was no action in Toronto’s bullpen.
Mind you, the bullpen was well enough rested. Though it had been pressed heavily into service the day before, throwing a total of five innings, three of them were by Mike Timlin. And in the previous four days, the bullpen had hurled a total of four innings, so the guys should’ve been ready.
I’ve one theory on what was going on. Wells always had a reputation as a pain in the butt as a pitcher, and today Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston was teaching him a lesson. Wells was suffering? Fine, let him suffer. They weren’t going to win today’s game anyway, so let him die a bit. I can’t confirm that’s what happened, but it would explain Gaston’s otherwise inexplicable handling of his staff this day.
Anyhow, Wells lasted for the rest of the fourth, allowing just one more run. Trailing 8-2, Wells came back out for the fifth inning. Please realize the score, if anything, underestimates how hard Wells was getting hit. One runner had been thrown out at the plate, and most of Milwaukee’s hits were for extra bases.
Anyhow, the fifth began with a leadoff home run by John Jaha. Then a double. Then an out. Then Well’s second hit batsman of the day. Then a walk to load the bases. Finally a double to drive in a pair.
Then it finally was time for Wells to take a walk. Both inherited runners would come around to score, giving Wells a total of 13 runs allowed, all earned, on three stolen bases, two hit batsmen, four walks, two singles, seven doubles, a triple, and a home run. His Game Score was –14.
No one had scored that low since Galen Cisco also had a –14 in July, 1962. No one had done worse since Chubby Dean had a –20 in 1940. Incredibly, since 1992 we’ve had two games do worse than Wells. Both came in 1998 when Scott Sanders and Mike Oquist posted Game Scores of –15 and –21, respectively.
Wells would have an ERA of 5.40 in 1992, but if you remove this game, his ERA drops down to 4.59. Yeah, that’s a bad day. And it happened 20 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other events have their anniversary or “day-versary” today. They are listed below with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim over things.
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