HOT STOVE ON THE BACK BURNER

HOT STOVE ON THE BACK BURNER

What I am about to write is neither an excuse nor a justification.  I am not even sure it rises to the level of a cop-out.  Rather, it is an admission of ignorance, indifference, and potentially insensitivity.

Last Friday afternoon I posted a blog entitled Free Agents of (Loose) Change.  When I posted this, Paris was literally in flames.

I, in no way, meant to post something as meaningless (in the grand scheme) as the goings-on of the baseball off-season when world events were unfolding in real time.  And I have no excuse for doing so.

A little backstory:

I started thinking about writing that blog post on the eve of Game 6 of the ALCS (three weeks before I posted it).  It took me about five days from the time I sat down to start researching/writing to the moment I hit the “publish” button.  Unfortunately, in the hours leading up to that fateful click, the world changed (again).  I just wasn’t attuned to it.  And again, I have no excuse.

Throughout the day on Friday, one of my colleagues was constantly providing updates on the carnage in and around Paris.  And for reasons that I still cannot comprehend, the import of the moment never resonated with me.  Now, this is as much a statement of my callousness as it is about the society in which we now live; and how those two concepts overlap.

We are faced with so many mass tragedies, on a daily and weekly basis, they have – unfortunately and unfathomly – just become noise.  Imagine that, hundreds people die, and we (read: I) cannot be bothered to walk into the other room to see the latest on CNN.  What have we become?  Where do we go from here?

My father-in-law is from Israel, and he always talks about growing up there and his repeated trips back.  My father, too, has made many trips to Israel.  And, as much as I want to visit the “homeland”, I admit that I am just plain frightened.  I hear about buses exploding on major thoroughfares and bombs going off in farmers’ markets, and I think to myself, “how/why can you expose yourself to that random danger?”  And when I raise this issue with Israelis or people who go there often, their response is always the same: you don’t think about it.  Whether or not they have become numb to their surroundings, or they have simply grown accustomed to what happens all too often, they just don’t live in fear.

I imagine this anaesthetization does not happen overnight.  Rather, it is a slow acclimation process.  Much like the lobster who first enjoys a warm bath, only to notice it getting a bit warmer, then feeling intense heat, and soon it’s too late.

Where on the continuum are we today?  I wanted to provide a listing of every terrorist (or terrorist-type) events this year, but there are WAY too many to count (someone counted them for 2014: 13,463, or roughly one every 40 minutes).  So, while everyone changes their Facebook profile picture and ends their Tweets with #StandWithParis, let’s just take a look at the first three weeks of this month and incidents in which three or more people were killed:

  • November 1st  12 dead in Mogadishu, Somalia.  A car bomb went off outside a hotel, which allowed the terrorists to enter the hotel firing their weapons and throwing grenades.
  • November 4th:   3 dead when a suicide bomber detonated a car bomb outside a police officers’ club in Arish, Egypt.
  • November 5th A suicide bombing in Arsal, Lebanon killed 5.
  • November 7th Multiple bombs were set off in Baghdad, killing 12.
  • November 9th Boko Haram killed 3 with a suicide bomb in Chad.
  • November 9th A 14-year old girl detonated herself, killing 4 bystanders in Fotokol, Cameroon.
  • November 12th A suicide bomber detonated a bike loaded with explosives and when onlookers gathered, another suicide bomber detonated himself, killing 43 and wounding 240 more in Beirut.
  • November 13th Baghdad was hit again, this time a suicide bomber killed 19 and left 33 wounded.
  • November 13th As we all know, 129 people died, and another 352 were injured in multiple attacks in Paris.
  • November 20th:  This morning 21 people (and counting) were killed when terrorists attacked a hotel hosting various diplomats in Mali.

How many of the above had you heard about?  If any were on your radar, did you stop or even slow down upon hearing the news?  Does there need to be a certain body count to get our attention?  I think we took a moment to pause when 9 people died in a church in Charleston, SC, right?  We definitely mourned when 20 children (and 6 adults) were killed at Sandy Hook in 2014.  Did Mali, a week after Paris, even get a cursory look at the CNN Alert on your iPhone?

Does the atrocity have to (a) be so huge (100+ dead?) that we can’t help but notice or (b) happen at a sacrosanct location (a church, a school, but most definitely not in a mosque) that we think “but for the grace of G-d”? or (c) happen so close to home that you begin to fear for your own safety?  If it isn’t any of the above, we are like the lobster; it is getting a bit warm in here, but nothing we can’t handle.

I don’t know the answer, but I am starting to feel the heat and wondering if there is any way out of the pot.  Maybe that is why sports ratings are so high.  Maybe that is why Star Wars is already sold out for the first two weeks of showings (a month in advance).  Maybe that is why nearly 35% of U.S. adults (more than 78M people) are obese.  The world around us is going to hell in hand basket, and there isn’t a damn thing we can do about it.

According to Linda Tropp, a professor of Social Psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, “when we experience feelings of insecurity, we try hard to re-establish a sense of security  . . . we crave a sense of normalcy . . . we want to get back to our routine and remember other things beyond this tragic event . . .”

Maybe that is the answer – we put our head in the sand as a defensive mechanism, not because we are unfeeling or callous or indifferent, but because we simply cannot deal with the fear.

And things only stand to get worse.  In this week’s Time, former CIA Director Michael Morell states: “ISIS poses a major threat to the U.S. and to U.S. interests abroad and that threat is growing every day . . . we have not faced an adversary like it before.”  Quick, get me a box of donuts, a box of popcorn, and a box score; I don’t like this news.

So what do we do?  Who do we look to?  There is a very good chance that a carnival barker (Martin O’Malley’s words, not mine) will become the Republican nominee to become the leader of the free world (and, if he wins, will initiate a national database to register all Muslims living in the U.S.), and the most qualified candidate in more than a quarter century is being pushed to the limits by an avowed Socialist, who, when asked about ISIS, said it was not as large a threat as global warming (it is now that I am seriously thinking about building a bunker).

We live in a world where lucks plays a larger role in our personal and collective safety than all of our intelligence services combined.  Where a renegade and vigilante group calling itself Anonymous poses the single greatest threat to the single greatest threat to a peaceful world.  (In case you missed it, Anonymous declared cyberwar on ISIS, promising to inflict the utmost damage to an organization that utilizes social media to recruit and spread their end of days gospel.  As of earlier this week, they claimed to have shut down 5,500 ISIS-related Twitter accounts.)  Why isn’t Anonymous on the CIA payroll?

The result of all of this is that knuckleheads like me look the other way for fear that what I will see if I turn around will be too painful, ugly, disheartening, plain ol’ scary, to bear.  And then I write silly essays about how many millions of dollars grown men will get paid to play a kid’s game.  And I did that last Friday totally unaware that France was suffering its own Pearl Harbor.  And for that, I am sorry.

Some might say: “If you don’t write, the terrorists win.”  True enough, but maybe just a bit of discretion, a day or two to let emotions simmer and allow people to get their bearings, isn’t too much to ask before minimizing the events of the day with triviality and frivolity.

Just like everyone on social media, I stand with Paris.  But, more importantly, I stand with the rest of my fellow humans who – based solely on the sheer volume of horrible events – no longer have the ability to truly appreciate and mourn these moments.  We may never have another 9/11; but if we do, you can be sure it certainly won’t feel the same.

In the coming days and weeks, when the smoke has literally settled, I will again write (and mean) . . .

PLAY BALL!!

 

FREE AGENTS OF (LOOSE) CHANGE

FREE AGENTS OF (LOOSE) CHANGE

It started with the following text to a buddy of mine on the eve of Game 6 of the ALCS:

“More pressure?  (David) Price tonight or (Johnny) Cueto tomorrow (if necessary)?”

The corollary question was: Who was more nervous, Price’s agent or Cueto’s agent?

We are now officially in Hot Stove Season.  The time of year that only the die-hards find interesting.  The rest of America has turned its focus full-time to the NFL, the lame (and way too early) BCS Standings, the Fall portion of the NBA season – which outcome won’t be decided until Summer (and people think the baseball season is too long!), the beginning of college basketball, Thanksgiving, and the end of year holidays.  In short, the vast majority of people couldn’t give a rat’s ass about baseball in November.  Good thing we aren’t the vast majority of people!

The Price/Cueto question got me thinking about the players who helped or hurt their respective (financial) causes in the last weeks/months of the season (including the post-season).  It is pretty interesting to do the “what if/what now?”.

Here are eight examples of players whose agents love or hate them just a little bit more today than they did a few months ago:

Let’s start with David Price.  Ironically enough, his 0-7 record and 5.27 ERA as a post-season starter probably will not dissuade multiple teams from throwing nine figures at him.  Shockingly, Price’s post-season record and ERA get way less publicity, attention, and criticism than that of Clayton Kershaw, who has been demonstrably better in the playoffs, year in, year out.  But I digress.

Price’s showing in the aforementioned Game 6 – wherein he retired 18 straight batters before a duck fart that should have been caught opened the floodgates to what would eventually become a 4-3 series-ending loss – probably saved his bacon a little bit.

Price is an elite lefty, and he will get paid regardless.  Teams will be lining up to pay Price to carry them to the playoffs where that 0-7 record will be put to the test . . . again.  Look for Price in LA with at least $150M guaranteed (or that just may be wishful thinking!).

And now Johnny Cueto.  Talk about your enigma.  When the Reds openly discussed trading Cueto mid-season, rumors persisted that there was a problem with his elbow.  And when the Royals sent a package of 3 elite prospects to Cincinnati to rent Cueto for two months, no one knew for sure what the Royals were getting.  He made 13 regular season starts in KC, going 4-7 with a 4.77 ERA, including a 5-game stretch of 6, 6, 4, 5, and 7 earned runs.  Ouch!

Cueto continued his mediocrity in Game 2 of the NLDS, giving up 4 earned runs in 6 innings, and got a no decision.

But then, five days later, he threw 8 innings of 2H/2ER ball to earn a very impressive win.  Maybe Cueto was, in fact, a big-game pitcher entitled to a nine-figure deal.

But then, five days later, he started Game 3 of the ALCS, threw 2 innings, walked 4, gave up 8 earned runs, and was gone before half the fans even downed their first Labatts.  At that moment, the Kansas City faithful were wishing they could have Brandon Finnegan back; Cueto simply wasn’t worth it.

Things were so bad that there was a legitimate question as to whether or not Cueto – the guy the Royals traded a big part of their future for – would be on the mound for Game 7 of the ALCS.  Was Chris Young, the 36-year old journeyman a better option?  Thanks to Jose Bautista (see, From G.O.A.T. to Goat) Kansas City fans never had to find out.

But then, a week later, Cueto started Game 2 of the World Series.  He pitched a complete game 2-hitter, and gave the Royals a commanding 2-0 series lead.  His services were not needed again for the Royals to dispatch the Mets.

So, what is Cueto worth?  Will someone pony up Jon Lester money ($155M) for a 30-year old pitcher with a questionable record?  Or, will he better suited for a 4/$64M deal?  If his agent is crafty, maybe he gets Cueto a 4/$76-$80M (maybe 5/$100M) deal from a team in desperate need of a front-line starter.  Had Cueto come to KC and put the team on his back (see, Bumgarner, Madison; Schilling, Curt) from August through October, he might be looking at a deal well in excess of nine figures.   It is quite possible that Cueto’s performance over the past few months cost him upwards of $50M.

Yoenis Cespedes.  Make no mistake, this guy is going to get a huge contract.  But how huge?  If the season had ended on September 23rd, Cespedes would have been looking at $150M, easy.  But then in the last week of the season and throughout the playoffs, we all watched, in real time, his value drop.  His power fell off, he was a liability in center field (that showing, plus his winning a Gold Glove in left, cemented his position for any acquiring team), and then there was the minor controversy of playing golf during the World Series with a bum shoulder.  “Cespedes for the Rest of Us” may not be for everyone.  He may still get nine figures, but I am sure his agents were none-too-pleased with his performance on the biggest stage(s).

Zack Greinke.  Has there ever been a pitcher who performed better in a walk year?  I am sure there has, but no pitcher ever had a better ERA in his walk year – considering Greinke had the 6th best single-season ERA of any pitcher since 1920.  Greinke opted-out of the last $71M on his current deal with the Dodgers, just to opt-in to at least $150M with someone (else?).  Greinke was the anchor of the Dodgers’ staff – even if he was never considered the ace – and will be paid handsomely in the months to come.  There is something about a 19-3 record, a 1.66 ERA, and a 5-1 K/BB ratio encourages teams to back up the Brinks truck.

Alex Gordon.  Heavy is the head that wears the Royals’ crown.  The world is Alex’s oyster, and he just has to decide how many pearls he wants.  There is a fair shot that he gets 5/$100M on the open market; but that is too rich for Kansas City’s blood (the largest contract they have ever given was 5/$55M for Gil Meche, who retired one year early, ultimately making this only a $43M commitment).  Assume KC goes “all-in” for Gordon and offers 4/$80M – which would be stretch for sure – does he give them a hometown discount and leave $20M (or more) on the table?  There is a precedent for this – one of my favorite baseball/contract stories ever:

In 2011, Jered Weaver gave the Angels a hometown discount – leaving about $50M on the table – signing for 5/$85M.  Here is what he had to say about it:  “How much more could you possibly need?  I never played this game for money purposes, I played it for love and for championships.  I’m a Southern California guy and I’m happy to stay here and have my friends and family close.  Loyalty is very important to me.  The Angels drafted me and I wanted to stay here and win a championship or two or three.”

But there is also a precedent for the exact opposite – one of my least favorite baseball/contract stories ever:

A year after helping to bring the first World Series title to Boston in 86 years, Lead Idiot Johnny Damon left the comfort of the Back Bay for the bright lights of the Bronx for an additional $12M.  Not only did he leave Boston, he went to the hated arch rivals.  Sure, it’s easy for me to say he should have walked away from $12M, but by that point in his career, Damon had already earned more than $45M; he was about to earn $40M more with the Red Sox.  Had he stayed with the BoSox, between a lower tax rate and never having to pick up a check again in the Commonwealth, he probably would have made up the difference, and then some.  But no, I am not bitter.

So which path will Gordon take?  Will he stay home (he is from Nebraska) and become the modern-day George Brett?  Or will he become the latest turncoat who chased a buck at the expense of his fans and his reputation.  Only time will tell . . .

John Lackey.  Say what you will about this guy – he glares at teammates when they make an error, he is petulant when he doesn’t get the borderline call, he sometimes pitches like an ace and sometimes pitches like a joker.  But, this past season he was stand-up (and by “stand-up” I mean he fulfilled the terms of his contract, which is an anomaly among professional athletes).

A little background:  In 2010 Lackey signed a 5-year/$82.5M contract with Boston.  He had a history of a balky elbow, so the Red Sox smartly added a clause that stated if Lackey “missed significant time because of the pre-existing elbow injury”, an additional year would be added to the deal at the MLB minimum.  Wouldn’t you know it, Lackey missed the 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery.  So Lackey had to pitch the 2015 season for the paltry sum of $507K (which, I admit, is a lot of money in real-life terms, but is $14.75M less than he earned in his previous three seasons, and is more than $18M less than he earned in the first year of the deal).  Lackey never said “boo”; he didn’t hold out; he didn’t complain.  He just went about his business as the de facto ace of the Cardinals (he was traded to St. Louis in 2014, for those of you paying attention; and became the Cards’ #1 when Adam Wainwright blew out his Achilles), pitching 218 innings, and posting a 2.77 ERA.

Now Lackey is line to get one last contract.  He just turned 37, so he probably won’t get more than 2 or 3-year deal, but he should command $12-$15M/year for keeping his mouth shut, living up to the terms of the deal he negotiated, and pitching like everyone in Boston had hoped he would.

Jeff Samardzija.  How does the song go?  “If we could turn back time . . . to the good old days”.  It really wasn’t that long ago that the Chicago Cubs (the then hapless Chicago Cubs) made the following offer to Samardzija: 5/$85M.  In fact, it was June, 2014.

Since that time, Samardzija has gone 16-20 with a 4.29 ERA, and given up 44 homeruns; oh, and he has been traded twice.  The White Sox did the big guy a favor last week by making him a Qualifying Offer, guaranteeing him $15.8M next season – if he so desires.  But my guess is that he tests the free agent market and gets – at best – 4/$48-$52M.  Said differently, had Samardzija signed on the dotted line 17 months ago, he would be getting paid $85M to play for a perennial playoff team on the Northside; but since he didn’t, he is now going to either play on the Southside for less than $16M or will be out there hawking his wares on the open market, claiming that he was the victim of bad defense and that his fastball hasn’t lost any velocity (in fairness, it hasn’t).  In the words of Rick Perry: “Oops!”

We could do this all day, but let’s end in the same place my last post ended: good ol’ Daniel Murphy.  In the words of J. Geils Band: “Freeze Frame!”  If only Daniel Murphy could freeze time at 1030pm on October 21st, he might be looking at 3-4/$40-$60M.  But then the World Series happened.  And Murphy’s flaws were exposed: he is a good – but not great – hitter, who happened to catch lightning in a bottle for a few weeks; and he is a WAY below average fielder who doesn’t really have a position.

His best bet is a team that has use for him at 1B, 2B, and 3B, allowing him to be a much richer-man’s Kiké Hernandez, a slightly richer-man’s Justin Turner, and a slightly poorer-man’s Ben Zobrist.  Now he is staring down the barrel of 2/$25-$30M, or he takes the Mets’ $15.8M Qualifying Offer.  Either prospect has Murphy leaving $30M-ish on the infield dirt at Citi Field.  If there is such thing as “addition by subtraction”, there must also be a concept of “winning so much you lose”.  If not, Daniel Murphy (and I) just coined it.

The Hot Stove is heating up.

We have just witnessed the first three players to ever accept a Qualifying Offer (Colby Rasmus (Astros), Brett Anderson (Dodgers), and Matt Wieters (Orioles).  We have seen the Red Sox send four prospects to the Padres for an elite closer (Craig Kimbrel).  And the Angels just gave up their best prospect to get the best defensive player on Earth.  If you don’t believe me, spend 3 minutes watching this (well worth your time, especially since we won’t have any Web Gems for nearly four months):

As more deals happen, and more players make generational money, I will be here to comment and opine.  But for now . . .

PLAY BALL!!

FROM G.O.A.T. to GOAT

FROM G.O.A.T. to GOAT

We live in a funny society.  And by “funny”, I mean wholly cruel and punishing.

As a society, we love nothing more than a great story, a fairy tale come true.  And then we wait for – nee, we wish for, and often precipitate – the great fall.  It is as American as apple pie, the 4th of July, and a Kardashian in your face at the checkout stand.

Sports are no different.  In fact, they may be worse.  Not a month goes by when SportsCenter or SI or The Magazine isn’t proclaiming some athlete “the greatest”, “the best”, “can’t miss”, “the leader for [insert annual award]”, “on pace to shatter [insert hallowed record]”, etc. and etc.  And then, when it doesn’t happen, when a player on a hot streak (regardless of length) finally comes back to Earth – and by Earth I mean the 1 in 1,000,000 of people in the world who can do what they do at the level they do it – take cover.  The talking heads, the “Hot Takes”, the radio guys, the syndicated writers, the blogosphere, your Fantasy Football buddy, they will have their torch in hand and will be marching to the stake to take down last week’s hero.   It don’t take long to go from G.O.A.T. to Goat.

Lo what a cruel and usual world in which we live.

As I watched this year’s baseball playoffs unfold, I saw this phenomenon writ large and small.  Herewith is a brief summary:

Carlos Correa: There really aren’t enough superlatives to describe this guy’s rookie season or his future.  He came up to the Astros in June and took the league by storm.  He hit for average, he hit for power, and he seemed to make a “Web Gem” every night.  There was a point in August-September when the rook put the team on his back and carried their faltering bullpen into the playoffs.  Announcers and pundits were falling all over themselves to sing the kid’s praises, with Alex Rodriguez (cue the laugh track) proclaiming that Correa was a certain Hall of Famer.  Easy, A-Rod.  Let the kid get 500 ABs before he poses for his bust.  But he was playing really well.

Then came the 8th inning of Game 4 of the ALDS.  The Astros scored three times in the bottom of the 7th to take a 4-run lead.  At this point, the Rookie Sensation already had 3 hits and 2 dingers in 3 at bats.  The ‘Stros were poised to get to the ALCS a year or two ahead of schedule, and this kid was the main reason.

But in the top of the 8th, the cockroaches from Kansas City started doing what they do.  Five consecutive singles made the score 6-4, and people in Houston were more nervous than an Enron accountant.  But when slow-footed Kendrys Morales hit a two-hopper to short, it looked like the Astros were about to avoid catastrophe.  A twin-killing would have made the score 6-5, but the Royals would have had two outs and a lone runner on third.  Of course, the Royals being the Royals, they probably would have converted that into even more runs, but at the time, it looked like the Astros might head to the 9th with a lead.  If only . . .

Correa misplayed Morales’ grounder, no outs were recorded, two runs scored, and the Royals now had runners on 1st and 3rd.   They scored twice more in the 8th, twice more in the 9th, won Game 4, and then went on to win the series in Game 5.  So much for the ALDS MVP, so much for the hero.  Correa misplayed an easy grounder and the Astros season went down the drain.  From G.O.A.T. to Goat in the space of one inning.

Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, left, was in position to get one out and likely two when he missed a bouncer hit by Kendrys Morales during the Royals' five-run eighth inning. Photo: Jon Shapley, Staff / © 2015 Houston Chronicle

Jose Bautista:  Enough has already been written (by me and others) about Bautista’s homerun in the 7th inning of Game 5 of the ALDS that we don’t need to add anything to the canon.  After hitting the game-winning bomb in a deciding game to propel his team into the ALCS, Joey Bats may have become the G.O.A.T. of bat flips.  (That said, he has some tough competition from Tom Lawless, circa 1987.)

After dropping Game 1 of the ALCS to Kansas City in Kansas City, the Blue Jays needed David Price – and his 0-5 playoff record – to come up big.  Price answered the call.  After giving up a base hit on the first pitch of the game, Price retired the next 18 batters.  It looked to be an epic performance.

But then Ben Zobrist led off the bottom of the 8th with a flair to short right.  Ryan Goins went out, Jose Bautista came in, and neither caught the ball.  Any Little Leaguer would tell you that it was Bautista’s ball – as he was moving in.  Bautista neither caught the ball nor took responsibility (check Goins’ back for tire marks).

As we all know, give the Royals an inch . . .

Sensing an opening (smelling blood?), the Royals went single, single, ground out, single, strike out, double, single.  And before the dust had settled in the Midwest, the Royals were up 5-3 on their way to a 6-3 win and a commanding 2-0 series lead.  Joey Bats: from G.O.A.T. to Goat in the space of a 150-foot duck fart.

Yoenis Cespedes:  It wasn’t too long ago that people were actively trying to make the case that Yoenis Cespedes could be/should be the National League MVP – even though he only played 57 games in the senior circuit.  The case was strong – sort of.  There is no question that the acquisition of Cespedes changed the complexion of the team, vastly improved their offense, and turned them into a pennant contender.  Cespedes hit 17 HRs and drove in 44 runs in two months.  The team had a .660 OPS before Cespedes arrived from Motown, and then had an .819 OPS in August and September.  Cespedes was THE man.  Until he wasn’t.

In 14 games during the playoffs, “Yoenis for the Rest of Us” hit like the rest of us.  With a .222 average, 2 HRs, 8 RBI, no HRs in his last 11 games, and 6 of his 12 total hits coming in just two games.  Add to that productivity, he badly misplayed the first pitch of the World Series into an – ahem – inside the park homerun.  Then misplayed another ball in left field.  And then, with two on and one out in the bottom of the 9th inning of a must-win Game 4, he somehow got doubled-off to end the game.  (See, That Just Can’t Happen, October 10, 2014).  When he fouled a pitch off his left knee in Game 5 and hobbled off the field, I am sure more than a few Mets fans were actually relieved.  From G.O.A.T. to Goat within the space of a few weeks.

Jeurys Familia:  This guy was the personification of nasty.  During the season he appeared in 76 games, opponents hit .207 against him while striking out 86 times, and he collected 43 saves.  When he walked out of the pen, it was lights out.  The talk of the town was his “bowling ball” sinker that – even if you made contact – was bound to bound to an infielder inflicting little, if any, damage.  He pitched five innings in the NLDS against the Dodgers, struck out three batters and did not allow a hit or a walk.  He pitched four innings in the NLCS against the Cubs, struck out three, allowed two meaningless hits and issued two walks.  Maybe those two walks were a sign of impending doom.

In the World Series, Familia blew a record three saves.  How did that happen?  Well, he pitched five innings in four games, gave up three hits, struck out three, walked one, and gave up a total of 1 earned run (however, that 1 earned run was a massive game-tying bomb by Alex Gordon with one out in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 1; cue Gibby!)  It happened because Daniel Murphy forgot how to play second base in Game 4.  It happened because Lucas Duda couldn’t throw a ball 90 feet without taking out the mascot.  Give him one huge blown save.  But the others, as they say in Queens, fuggedaboutit!  Familia became the first pitcher to ever blow three Fault or not, blowing three saves on the biggest, that will leave a mark (on his legacy).  He went from G.O.A.T. to Goat (unwittingly) in the short distance between Chicago and Kansas City.

Matt Harvey:  This one is really fun.  The “Dark Knight” was supposedly a savior in New York.  A legend in the making.  He was the guy they built their pitching staff around, and he had all the makings of becoming the G.O.A.T.  Then he blew out his elbow and fought the team to get back on the mound sooner than was rational or prudent.  But when he did come back, he was awesome.  And then his agent leaked some thoughts about innings limits, and all hell broke loose.  In a master class of poor P.R., Harvey essentially conceded that, in order to protect his precious arm, he would not/could not pitch in the playoffs.  New York fans went ape shit.  Harvey was – before anything horrible actually happened – already the Goat for the Mets continued misery.

Blog_Harvey

But then Harvey told his agent to pipe down, told his skipper he was ready to go, and took the ball and pitched masterfully.  He may have been the #3 on this awesome staff in the playoffs, but he still drew the most heat and the most attention.  And with the innings limit behind him, he went out and dominated.  The G.O.A.T. had returned – black cape and all.

Fast forward to Game 5 of the World Series.  Harvey was out of his mind.  He pitched 8 scoreless innings, giving up only 4 hits while striking out 9.  And then, irony of irony, everything came down to Harvey wanting to pitch more innings.  Terry Collins relented (possibly because he misused his closer in Game 3 (Collins, a Goat?) and let Harvey take the hill in the 9th.  Harvey got ahead of Lorenzo Cain 1-2, and we all but recorded K #10 in our scorebook.  But fate is a fickle bitch, and Cain worked a 9-pitch walk.  Eric Hosmer (more on him below) promptly doubled to left-center to bring the Royals within a run.  Is/was Harvey a Goat?  Hard to say, but his great outing went down the drain over the course of 5 minutes.  Had he got through the 9th, the G.O.A.T. chant would have been heard throughout four boroughs (I excluded The Bronx).

Eric Hosmer:  It’s 3-3 with two on and two out in the top of the 8th inning of Game 1 of the World Series.  So what better time for a Gold Glove first baseman to side-saddle a chopper, misplay it, and allow the lead run to score?  It didn’t take long for the Blogosphere to come up with this nugget: “That’s the first go-ahead run in the 8th inning or later of a World Series game since, you guessed it, the Buckner game in 1986 World Series” or for Fox to give us this:

A new Goat was born.  But a mere six innings later, Hosmer hit the sacrifice fly to score Alcides Escobar to win an epic Game 1.  Not quite the G.O.A.T., but a minor redemption.

Fast forward to the 6th inning of Game 5.  The Mets led 1-0, got a lead-off walk followed by a single.  Two on, no out.  Daniel Murphy hit a shot – but a fieldable shot – to Hosmer.  When you win Gold Gloves, you are expected to make that play and turn it into a 3-6-3 rally killing DP.  But Hosmer again attempted a backhand, and again came up short.  And now the Mets had the bases loaded with no outs.  Through guile, luck, and a well-placed foul ball off Yoenis Cespedes’ knee, the Royals were able to get out of the inning giving up only a single run.  But, for a few moments there, Kansas City fans were asking themselves, “Hosmer . . . again?!”  “Could he be the Goat . . . again?”

Baseball is a great game.  Trailing 2-0 in the top of the 9th, Lorenzo Cain works the best walk of his life (see Jeurys Familia, above).  And then Hosmer promptly doubles off his former travel ball teammate (little known fact: Hosmer and Harvey won a Connie Mack World Series after living, traveling, and playing together in the summer of 2007), bringing the Royals within a run, with no one out.  Hosmer moved to third on a ground out.  But when Salvador Perez could only muster a soft hopper to David Wright, it appeared that the Royals may again leave the tying run 90 feet away.

But then Hosmer made his crazy dash for the plate.  A good throw gets him by 10 feet (sound familiar?), and sends the series back to Kansas City for Game 6.  A bad throw ties the game.  When Hosmer popped up with a filthy uniform, I think everyone from Queens to Kansas knew the eventual outcome of this game/series.

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From Goat to G.O.A.T. to Goat to nearly a Goat to G.O.A.T in the space of 4 games.

KC Coaches: I love this one.  My very first post (oh so many year ago) was an in-depth analysis of third base coach Mike Jirschele’s decision to hold Alex Gordon at third base with two outs, trailing by one run, in the bottom of the 9th inning of Game 7 of 2014 World Series.  I said then, and I say now (and nearly everyone agrees) that it was the right call.  The odds were stacked just too much against scoring that run that way in that moment.  Win one for the coaches.

But the Kansas City coaching staff – and Ned Yost in particular – don’t get nearly enough credit for their preparation and execution.  Yost has been a laughing stock in Kansas City for half a decade.  #FireYost and #Yosted were familiar refrains in the Twitterverse for years.  I guess something changed (and, by something, I mean our impression of the man and his coaching staff).

Drew Butera, who came to the Royals from the Angels in May after playing with three other teams, was quick to remark how the Royals did things differently.  In his first pre-series meeting for pitchers and catchers, he was astonished to find that they had advanced metrics on everything – including each game’s umpire.  This coaching staff didn’t leave anything to chance.

So, when Lorenzo Cain was hugging first in a 3-3 tie of Game 6 of the ALCS, and Eric Hosmer (there’s that guy again) hit a sharp single down the right field line, Jirschele put his advanced scouting to work.  Jirschele analysis revealed that every time a ball like that was hit, Jose Bautista came up throwing to second base.  Knowing he would do so again, Jirschele wheeled Cain all the way around with the Royals 4th and eventual pennant winning run.

Now, a quick aside: A lot has been made in the press about Cain scoring from first on a single.  While this is technically accurate, it is a bit disingenuous.  The only reason it was a “single” was that Bautista threw the ball to second to keep Hosmer from getting a double, which, as stated above, allowed Cain to score.  Had Bautista thrown home, whether or not Cain was safe, Hosmer would have gone to second and been credited with a double.  So, while Cain was flying, and Jirschele made a gutsy (and ultimately correct) call to send him, this isn’t the stuff of legend.  Okay, now I feel better.  Let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

It was also the Royals coaching staff that had prepared their players with the following information: if and when you have the chance, run on Wright and Duda.  Through four games, the opportunity hadn’t presented itself.  But when Wright shuffled to his left to get Perez’s bouncer, Hosmer was already armed (legged?) with the information he needed to take the risk (and it bears mentioning that the Royals coaching staff has encouraged risk-taking on the base paths all season).

Some people hate Ned Yost, and some people love him.  But you cannot deny that he and his coaching staff are prepared each and every day.  A year ago some were calling Jirschele a Goat, but – for a few days at least – this coaching staff is the G.O.A.T.

And lastly . . .

Daniel Murphy:  Who would’ve thunk when I wrote about Daniel Murphy back in March (Opening Gay (A Conversation)) and stated that I didn’t know much about him, that he would become a folk hero in an October fortnight?

Here is all Daniel did in two series against the best pitchers in the world (including Clayton Kershaw, Zach Greinke, and Jake Arrieta): Hit .421, slugged 1.026, and hit homeruns in 6 consecutive games.  For that he was rewarded with the cover of SI, a place in the record books next to Barry Bonds (good news?), and compared to Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, and other October greats.  After homering in the 8th inning of Game 4 of the NLCS to finish off the sweep of the Cubs, New Yorkers were hopeful that they could ride four electric arms and one scorching bat all the way to the Canyon of Heroes (or wherever the Mets would have held their parade).  For a few weeks, Daniel Murphy was the G.O.A.T.

But a funny thing happens when you sweep a series – you are forced to sit, and wait, and answer hundreds of questions, and get out of rhythm, and start thinking about how and why a guy who had multiple seasons  of 6 total homeruns could hit 7 in 9 games.  And then you fly to Kansas City.  Toto, I guess we’re not in Los Angeles, Chicago, or Long Island anymore . . .

For starters, Murphy lost his mojo at the plate.  He glared at umpires after looking at repeated strike threes, on his way to hitting an anemic .150 over 5 games, mustering a total of 3 singles.  But that wasn’t even close to the worst of it.

Trailing 2-1 in the series, but leading 3-2 with two on and one out in the 8th inning of Game 4, Eric Hosmer (that guy again!) hit a slow roller towards second base.  Murphy, channeling his inner Buckner, misplayed the grounder, allowing it to roll into right field and the tying run to score.  Two singles later and the Royals had themselves a 5-3 win and a 3-1 series lead.  This Halloween became a ghoulish nightmare for The City that Never Sleeps.  Murphy took his lumps as a true pro, and his teammates had his back.  However, there was no escaping the fact that he had become a Goat.  But that’s not all.

From the Department of Obvious, Game 5 was a must-win for the Mets.  As per above, Matt Harvey did all he could through 8 innings to will his team to victory.  However, the Royals would not be swayed, and tied it in the 9th.  On to extras we went.  When KC pushed across the lead run on a Christian Colon single (first at bat in a month, natch), the Royals had the slimmest of leads. 

So when Paulo Orlando hit a grounder to Murphy, you couldn’t help but think that the Mets would turn two and get back to the dugout with a chance to keep the series going.  But Murphy was all thumbs.  He misplayed yet another groundball, putting the Royals up 4-2.  Two doubles later, the Royals had a commanding 7-2 lead with Wade Davis on his way in from the bullpen, and the plastic was being hung in the visiting clubhouse at Citi Field.

 

Daniel Murphy, from G.O.A.T. to Goat over the course of a 5-day layoff and a 5-game series.

People often complain that baseball is too slow.  Maybe.  But, as we have seen – time and time again – in the blink of an eye, fortunes can change.  Guys can go from G.O.A.T. to Goat faster than you can say “Baahhh!”

Hear we sit, sadly waiting 149 days (damn Leap Year) until we hear an umpire officially say:

PLAY BALL!!