The date is Tuesday, October 6, 2015 and we made it. Finally. After 8 draining tedious seasons, the Mets have returned to the post-season. 90 wins netted us the second wildcard spot. In order to face St. Louis in the LDS and avenge 2006 all we must do is win a one-game wild card elimination. Jacob deGrom (18-9 3.25 ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (21-5, 2.73 ERA).
Kershaw seems to have finally shaken his post-season woes. That is, until the top of the 7th when Lucas Duda plants one beyond the RF wall knocking in Lagares and Wright. The Mets need just 9 more outs. But the 7th inning stretch galvanizes the capacity crowd. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins (of all people) notices the corner infielders playing back and legs out a perfectly executed bunt for a lead-off single. The fans get loud. Carl Crawford clobbers deGrom’s next offering. Curtis Granderson turns and runs, snagging the high fly against the wall for the first out. 27 year-old deGrom is rattled. He takes a deep breath, paces, tries to regroup and wipes the sweat from his brow as Yasiel Puig digs in. Puig splits two outfielders. A double. The Dodgers, trailing 3-0, have runners on second and third. The tying run, represented by Adrian Gonzalez (.279-32-118) steps to the plate.
Eight more stinkin’ outs. Mets fans are growing restless, anticipating the worst. 56,238 Dodgers fans rise to their feet in an attempt to unnerve the Mets starter. It’s all happened so quick that Terry Collins hasn’t had a chance to get someone loose. The Mets need to stall. DeGrom needs to calm down. Mets fans scream at the TV for Collins to go the mound and buy some time for the bullpen. Why isn’t Duda sharing some words of encouragement??? Why is David Wright, our captain, just standing there??? How come Travis d’Arnaud isn’t calling time and walking to the mound to calm down the young pitcher the way Gary Carter did with Doc Gooden? DeGrom, nervous, losing composure and about to blow it, is left all alone. What the hell is going on??? Is this the Twilight Zone??? Where’s Rod Serling???
Then we remember. “Oh, yea. We’ve used up our allotted time-outs.” Welcome to the Rob Manfred version of Major League Baseball. You know, the version where games took too darn long and needed to be sped up.
One of the countless aspects that make baseball the greatest game ever devised is the link from generation to generation. For well over a century the National Pastime has remained relatively unchanged. A .300 hitter means something, no matter if it’s me cheering Jose Reyes, my father cheering Jackie Robinson or my grandfather cheering Babe Herman. A 20-game winner is a 20-game winner, be it Doc Gooden, Tom Seaver or Christy Mathewson. 200 K’s means the same to Randy Johnson as it did to Walter Johnson. The only significant alteration to the rules occurred in 1973. And more than 40 years after one league installed the DH, fans are still divided.
The powers-that-be began tinkering with the Holy Grail of the game, the rule book, because of what transpired in Florida on May 25, 2011. On a play at home, Scott Cousins collided with Giants catcher Buster Posey. The defending Rookie of the Year suffered torn ligaments and a fractured fibula. For all intents and purposes, the Giants season was finished before Memorial Day. MLB felt, for whatever reason, changes needed to be made. And so began the descent down a perilous slope that could have a long lasting impact on the game we cherish.
There is nothing more exciting than witnessing a player rounding third and heading for home as the catcher plants his feet waiting for the relay throw. Nothing can bring an entire stadium to their feet quicker than anticipating a play at the plate. Both at the ballpark and watching from home our stomachs tighten. We hold our collective breath. Can the runner knock the ball free? Can the catcher apply the tag?
Beginning last year that thrilling aspect was removed. You could clearly see the confusion all season long. Runners were uncertain where their lane was. Catchers were tentative about where they were permitted to stand. Protecting a run became secondary to abiding to some silly rule. (As a side note, how many knew that the rule was amended during the season where catchers could NOT block the plate but position players COULD?)
Was Posey’s injury catastrophic? Absolutely. The 2011 Giants still managed to win 86 games, falling just 4 short of the wildcard. Surely, had Posey not been injured, he himself is worth 4 wins. However, MLB overreacted. Yes, catchers do get hurt. But that’s part of the game. And think about it. How often does that really occur? We see more injuries on routine plays. If MLB feels compelled to prevent injuries, what’s next?
More common is a batter pulling a hamstring sprinting down the 1B line trying to beat out a slow roller. How about a player rounding 2nd and turning on the afterburners. (Jose Reyes anyone?) We see players jamming thumbs stealing a base. Perhaps MLB should create a Designated Runner. We have a Designated Hitter so why not? Every player could have one DR assigned to them. Rosters would increase to 50, the union would be happy and star players we pay admission to see would never get hurt.
Another way to prevent injuries could be prohibiting outfielders from crashing into the wall. Hey, we already have a warning track. Let’s put it to good use. If the outfielder can’t catch the ball before trespassing onto the warning track, that’s just too darn bad. (If such a rule existed twenty years ago, think of all those extra games Ken Griffey Jr. would not have missed. He’d probably be the HR King, not Barry Bonds.)
And pitchers? They are both the highest paid AND most often injured. Maybe MLB should outlaw the curve ball. And while they’re at it, they can outlaw the fast ball, too. After all, more batters are injured getting hit by a pitch than runners colliding at the plate. Perhaps we should reduce a strikeout to two strikes, a walk to three balls? How about extending the base paths from 90 feet to 110 feet. C’mon, let’s get the baseball thing over with in a hurry so we can all go back to seeing which Kardashian is pregnant this week.
Of course I’m being sarcastic. But based on recent changes, I’m not ruling out anything. In the Arizona Fall League MLB looked into methods to speed up the game. Some of the changes tested include:
• Batter’s box rule: Hitter required to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout at-bat unless there is foul ball, wild pitch or passed ball — or if a pitch forces him out or the umpire grants “time.”
• No-pitch intentional walks
• 20-second rule: 20-second clock will be posted in each dugout, behind home plate and in outfield to prevent pitchers from taking too much time.
• 2:05 inning-break clock: Maximum time allowed between innings, and batters must be in box at 1:45 mark or umpire can call automatic strike. If pitcher throws pitch after 2:05, umpire may call ball.
• 2:30 pitching-change-break clock: Maximum amount of time allowed for pitching change.
• Three “timeout” limit: Teams limited to three trips to the mound by managers, coaches and catchers during game, except pitching changes.
Commissioner Manfred is also looking into outlawing defensive shifts, removing strategy from the most strategic game there is. That in and of itself is a mixed signal and demonstrates MLB is utterly clueless. On one hand they install policies to make games shorter. On the other hand, recent changes do just the opposite.
With the advent of a ‘challenge’ or ‘play under review,’ the game that supposedly already moves too slowly now comes to a grinding halt. Players on the field, fans in the stands and viewers at home now watch with baited breath as umpires stand in a circle wearing headsets conversing with some guy in a darkened chamber high above Manhattan like the mysterious shadowy “banker” in that Howie Mandel game show. During the course of a game this alone could add anywhere from 8-12 minutes. If they’re willing to delay a game to make sure the call is correct, isn’t it equally important to honor the history of the game itself and not mess around with lunacy such as pitch clocks?
Another contradiction from the incoming commissioner is his desire to bring offense back to the game. Outlawing defensive shifts will see the return of 9-7 slugfests instead of well-played 3-2 pitching duels. Yet, we all know a 9-7 game takes longer to play than a 3-2 game.
Making games shorter will not help ratings. Those who find Baseball “boring” and “slow-moving” will not suddenly become fans and purchase Mike Trout jerseys. And those of us who are purists will take umbrage to tinkering with the very essence of the game we treasure, the game taught to us by our dad or older brother. They need to stop mucking up the beauty of Baseball with hare-brained attempts to outdraw Football. Yes, 112 million TV sets were tuned into the Super Bowl last weekend while an average of just 13.8 million viewers watched the World Series last October. But so what? Kanye West has sold more records than Jimi Hendrix. That doesn’t mean he’s better.
For more than 100 years Baseball has survived every conceivable transgression imaginable. Racists, bigots and anti-Semites have worn the uniform. But the game endured. Games have been fixed, an entire World Series was thrown. But the game endured. Some of the greatest players to ever walk on the field have been shamed and may never be enshrined in Cooperstown. But the game endured. Alcoholics, cocaine addicts and steroid users have played. But the game endured. Free agency, collusion, teams relocating, some franchises completely folded. But the game endured. Two World Wars and conflicts from Southeast Asia to Central America have taken place. But the game endured. On a Tuesday morning, terror came to New York City, Washington DC and western Pennsylvania. The game stopped. But after ten days, endured. Hopefully the game will be able to endure these potentially catastrophic changes.
“Baseball must be a great game. The owners haven’t found a way to kill it yet.” — Bill Veeck
The date is Tuesday, October 6, 2015 and we made it. Finally. After 8 draining tedious seasons, the Mets have returned to the post-season.
It’s the top of the 9th in Los Angeles. The Mets squandered a 3-0 lead and now trail 4-3. Closer Kenley Jansen is on the hill to close it out and send the Mets home on a long cross-country flight. After retiring the first 2 batters, 56,238 Dodgers fans are on their feet. They smell blood. Juan Lagares keeps our hopes alive and bloops one over the outstretched glove of Jimmy Rollins. Daniel Murphy fights off a wicked 0-2 cut fastball and shoots one down the first base line, just beyond the reach of Adrian Gonzalez. Lagares motors around to 3B.
Trailing 4-3, tying run on third and potential winning run at first. David Wright, candidate for Comeback Player of the Year (302-26-107) digs in. After falling behind 0-2, he fights off pitch after pitch after pitch. He fouls off close pitches, lays off others just off the black and works the count to 3-2. The capacity crowd is going crazy. Fans in New York are pacing in their living rooms.
Don Mattingly on the top step of the Dodger dugout. Terry Collins and various Mets on the top step of the visiting dugout. The camera, shaking due to vibration of chaotic screaming fans, scans the crowd. There’s Tommy LaSorda in the owner’s box staring wide-eyed at the field. We catch a glimpse of Jerry Seinfeld sitting behind the Mets dugout, cap pulled down over his eyes, too nervous to watch. We get a quick shot of Keith Hernandez in the broadcast booth, his hands clutching an imaginary bat, willing himself on the field as if its 1986 all over again. Catcher A.J. Ellis puts down one finger, pats his left thigh. Fast Ball inside. Jensen checks the runners and sets. Wright grips the bat.
Suddenly, as the fire-balling closer is ready to deliver, a slight breeze kicks up and blows something into Wright’s eye. The entire season is on the line. But David isn’t allowed to step out or ask for time because the rules now prohibit that since we need to get done quickly. Jensen fires a 98 MPH heater. And our entire season comes down to a one-eyed David Wright.
Thanks a lot Rob Manfred.