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That might have been the most unpleasant Cubs victory I have ever had the displeasure to watch all the way through on television. And I have watched a few games on TV in my 50 years or so of Cub fandom.
Did I mention that game was not pleasant?
After a one-hour-and-47-minute rain delay (of a game that was scheduled to start at 5:30 CDST), the Cubs managed to spend almost four hours playing the contest in question on Monday night before they miraculously hung on to defeat the Reds 8-7 in ultra-humid Cincinnati. I thought about turning off the game and going to bed at 10 p.m. but I figured surely they could get the game finished up in the next half hour or so. I didn't end up hitting the sack until well after midnight EDST.
"At least they won," you might be saying at this point. Yes, the Cubs won. And in the process they improved their early season record to 3-1 and are on the verge of accomplishing that thing that everyone is looking for in this 60-game sprint - a fast start. But they also punched their fans in the gut once, twice, but not quite three times, right?
Then again, in the ninth inning they certainly faked about a half dozen shots to the stomach before finally wrapping things up. And almost miraculously, the win went to Jon Lester, who hours before had actually limited the Reds to no hits in five stellar innings.
Sports trigger alert: I am now going to spend some time talking about the details of last night's game, making this column, at least partly, a gamer. So many print/digital sports editor/managers have been telling everyone for a long time now that people don't want to read gamers anymore. Shockingly, those editors are idiots. The phrase "people don't read gamers" is almost as true as "you can do more with less," another idiot editor/manager favorite.
A well-written gamer - to which I aspire but which I know I am unlikely to create - in the aftermath of a big win or at least an eventful win is a joy to behold. Why is that so difficult for said editors to understand? Anyway, let's begin.
The Cubs took it right up to the edge of blowing a 7-0, middle-of-the-sixth inning lead before Jeremy Jeffress recorded two extremely fortunate outs to earn his first save of the season in the ninth. Jeffress deserves all sorts of kudos just for being reasonably functional after manager David Ross waited until the last possible moment to bring him in - bases loaded, one out, tying run at third. The reliever last seen struggling for the Brew Crew last year struck out the Reds' Phil Ervin swinging on a three-ball pitch that was a good six to eight inches inside.
Then Jeffress went to a three-ball count against the ultra-scrappy Joey Votto, who ultimately lined out to center for the final out.
Craig Kimbrel had started the ninth with a three-run lead and no one on - just about the easiest save situation there is. He proceeded to walk four, hit one batter, uncork one wild pitch (it could have been four or five wild pitches) and get one out. He threw two more pitches that were headed right toward batters' knees before they displayed amazing reflexes to avoid getting hit.
Just like "the contact play," the phrase "this game is his to lose" is accepted as baseball dogma way too frequently. Announcers excusing lousy base-running from third by saying that "the contact play" must have been on is No. 1 oftentimes wrong, i.e., they have no idea if the play was actually on, and No. 2, a fundamental misunderstanding about the way the game works.
Unless it is OK, with less than two outs, for a baserunner to sprint away from third on any kind of hit, i.e., even on a catchable line drive, "the contact play," is nonsense. Baserunners are expected to wait to see if line drives are caught before they head home from third in that sort of situation. It should be played exactly the same way when a hitter hits a hard ground ball. The baserunner should be waiting to see if the ball goes thru or if at least he can tell that the ground ball is going to force a fielder to move side to side. If it is a ground ball right at a fielder, the runner should be sprinting back to third, just like he would if it was a catchable line drive.
Man, I have been waiting my whole sportswriter career to get that out there. Thank you for your time, good night everybody! Sorry about that "this is his game to lose." No game is ever automatically there for the losing when a closer comes in. And that is especially the case at the start of a ninth inning with a multiple-run lead. The bottom line is, no reliever should ever be allowed to allow more than three batters to reach base. The new three-batter-minimum rule makes this even clearer - if a reliever allows the first three hitters he faces to reach, he should come out even if he is vintage Mariano Rivera.
So, if we can stop ever saying that an idiotic "contact play" was on and we can stop saying that a game is "his to win or lose," especially when Craig Kimbrel is involved, we will have done an important public service. Hey David Ross, these are my gifts to you on the occasion of your first-ever week of managing in the Majors.
Jim "Coach" Coffman welcomes your comments.
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