Dr. Strangeglove: There But For the Grace of God

Posted by Michael Baumann, Fri, October 21, 2011 04:36 PM | Comments: 31
Analysis, Dr. Strangeglove, Opinion, Posts

I’ve been harping on how playoff baseball can hinge on luck, happenstance, and fractions of an inch for months now. It’s been roughly utility-neutral to us as Phillies fans in recent years (I hate to go all Jeremy Bentham on you guys, but that was the best way to put it), because while the Phillies, in 2011, lost in the first round of the playoffs despite probably being the best team with the easiest road to the World Series, the same could be said of the 2008 Cubs. And if the Cubs weren’t the best team, the Rays were most likely next in line, then the Red Sox, and then the Phillies. Having the Cubs lose in the first round and the Phillies win the World Series is really no more of a karmic ball-tap than having the Phillies lose in the first round and the Cardinals win the World Series this year.

Except I can’t stand Tony La Russa and his smug self-importance and tedious overmanaging. Or the rest of the pressed-and-ironed St. Louis Cardinals, essentially Lance Berkman and a bunch of guys who are really hard to like. There’s Albert Pujols, the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen and one of the most off-puttingly boring personalities in sports. There’s the battery of Chris Carpenter and Yadier Molina, two guys whose defenders would describe as “fiery” but are so prickly they make Nyjer Morgan look like Carlos Ruiz. Then there’s the legion of anonymous, dirty-jersey grinders who run into unnecessary outs and lay down more bunts than an unimaginative pastry chef. It’s horrific baseball, an Indian burn on the forearm of progess in baseball tactics, and it’s working.

Not that anyone would confuse Ron Washington for Earl Weaver, and while I find Josh Hamilton inspiring, Adrian Beltre riveting and C.J. Wilson charming, I can see why one might have the same sort of viscerally negative reaction the Rangers that I have to the Cards. But my spiteful Ranger bandwagonism nearly came under assault last night, if not for one of those razor-thin margins that so often define baseball.

Which brings me to something I noticed in Game 2. After taking the LCS off to collect myself, I’ve watched the first two games of the World Series and watched the Rangers come back to tie the series against the hated Cardinals on a couple of near-miraculous baserunning plays in the ninth inning. If those plays had gone wrong, the Cards would be up 2-0, but if a couple of similar plays had gone right two weeks ago, we’d be looking at an entirely different World Series altogether.

With no one out in the top of the first inning of Game 4 of the NLDS, with the Phillies leading the series 2-1 and the game 2-0 after 10 pitches, Hunter Pence broke for second with the count full to Ryan Howard, who looked at strike three from Edwin Jackson. Pence–a terrible basestealer, 62-for-99 on his career–was then thrown out at second by Yadier Molina, one of the best catchers in history at eliminating would-be basestealers, got Pence by mere microns at second, and the game had turned on the head of a pin. Instead of having a lead, a baserunner, no outs, and the cleanup hitter at the plate, the Phillies had given Jackson a way out of the inning. Sure enough, the Cardinals took the lead in the bottom of the fourth and the Phillies never got it back.

Then, in the top of the sixth, down 3-2, Chase Utley tried to take the extra base on grounder to short and was TOOTBLAN by five feet. This is precisely the kind of aggressive, too-clever-by-half move that makes Utley such an exciting player, but in his eagerness to make something happen while Troy was being sacked before his eyes, Utley ran into an unnecessary out when the Phillies could ill afford to give outs away.

The third baserunning event happened two days later, and it was described by Rany Jazayerli of Baseball Prospectus on Wednesday’s Jonah Keri Podcast. Keri was arguing that Texas, as the best baserunning team in baseball, would have an advantage in the World Series when Jazayerli said that Molina could neutralize that baserunning edge by himself.

The interview can be found here, and the section I’m quoting starts around the 11:50 mark.

“[Yadier Molina] had the huge throw to nail Chase Utley trying to steal in that 1-0 game. Chase Utley is the best percentage basestealer in the history of baseball with 100 or more steals, successful, like 88 percent of the time. And he took off for second base on a curveball, mind you…it didn’t get to home plate as fast as the fastball would have, and Molina had the absolute perfect transfer and throw and nailed Utley at second base to kill the rally in, I think, the seventh or eighth inning, and that was the last rally the Phillies had in that game. So yeah…if Ron Washington wants to stick with what got him here and is aggressive on the basepaths, that’s going to hurt the Rangers.”

Which, of course, it did not last night. Trailing 1-0 to the Cardinals late, with everything to lose and while running out of outs rapidly, Ian Kinsler, the Rangers’ version of Chase Utley, reached base to lead off an inning and tested Molina’s arm. While Utley was out by a fraction of a second, Kinsler was safe by an even smaller amount, and rather than killing his team’s last chance for a rally, he put the tying run in scoring position with no out.

It was a stupid play, even more insanely desperate, due to the scarcity of remaining outs, than Utley’s seventh-inning SNAFU in NLDS Game 5. But it worked. Four pitches later, Jason Motte grooved a fastball that a better hitter than Elvis Andrus would have hit to Illinois, but Andrus went the other way with it for a single and Kinsler went far enough around third to warrant a throw.

On the throw, Andrus, every bit as good a basrunner as Utley, took the same kind of insane chance that Utley himself took against Furcal and Pujols in Game 4 of the NLCS and it paid off. All of a sudden, two singles and two harrowing baserunning decisions had the winning run on second and no one out for Josh Hamilton.

Baseball, at its best, is a game that doesn’t resemble gladitorial combat so much as it resembles poker, a solution composed entirely of percentages, courage, and random chance. But what Kinsler and Andrus did last night wasn’t that kind of baseball. It was a berzerker rage.

I’m sure that if you’ve made it this far you watched all three games I’ve mentioned and seen all five baserunning plays and you’re wondering what the point is of recounting those painful moments.

Consider this: take out Utley’s disastrous first-to-third and the remaining four plays were all bang-bang. I’d warrant that the difference between safe and out in all four plays put together was no more than half a second. The temporal and spatial disparity between the Cardinals being up 2-0 in the World Series and out of the playoffs altogether is so thin it beggars belief.

Inches, if that, separated the Phillies from victory, and there, but for the grace of God, go the Rangers.

Avatar of Michael Baumann

About Michael Baumann

Michael Baumann has written 229 articles on Phillies Nation.

Michael is a graduate student at Temple University who lost his childlike innocence when, at the age of 6, his dad let him stay up for the end of Game 6 of the 1993 World Series. Unsettled by the Phillies' recent success, he has threatened over the years to leave the team he loves if they don't start losing again, but has so far been unable to follow through. Michael spent 4 years as an undercover agent in Braves territory at the University of South Carolina, where he covered football and soccer for The Daily Gamecock before moving back up north. He began writing for The Phrontiersman in June 2009 before moving to Phillies Nation in January 2010.

  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    And if the queen had the balls she’d by the king.

    If “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts we’d all have a merry Christmas.

    The Dipsy

  • Posts: 0 George

    I saw both plays last night, and thought running was a no-brainer in both instances.

    Kinsler had such a huge jump that I’d have been surprised if he DIDN’T make it; only Molina’s throw made it look close, and even that wasn’t real close.

    And Andrus wasn’t risking much, either. Had the throw been successfully cut off, he could simply have gotten himself in a rundown that could have allowed Kinsler to score. If not, the Rangers still have a man on third and only one out. A fly ball or a ground out could still tie the game.

    Maybe had things been inches different in the Philadelphia games, the outcome would have been different. But maybe the Phils simply played poorly enough to lose even if they’d gotten a couple of gigantic breaks on what were far more questionable–and possibly even stupid–plays.

  • Posts: 0 BART SHART

    I also cannot stand Tony La Russa and the whole Cardinal bunch. Ron Washington is much easier to root for and I hope the Rangers win this match-up. It was fun to see La Russa
    “overmanage” last night, and I would be thrilled to see it again and again, as long as the Cardinals lose.

  • Posts: 2071 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    I dont care for Larussa personally but I would rate him one of the premier coaches of all time and he will be inducted into the HOF.

    Regarding this post, I dont get your point (if you are making one Michael), this is a game of inches but if you come up short do you stop trying and sit back, wait for the big man to connect on a 3 run shot? Oh yeah, that has not worked for the Phils 2 post seasons in a row..

    I love what Washington did, get him on, move him over, score – one run at a time. Hit the ball to the opposite field to move the runner over… comeon

  • Posts: 0 George

    A couple of other things:

    I wonder how many people get some of your references. (Or as one of your other writers might erroneously say, “What are you ‘ELUDING’ to?”–the word is “ALLUDING,” darn it!) I don’t have a clue who Jeremy Bentham is, and doubt that anything he may have said or done could possibly be of any importance to me. Sometimes a writer can be too cute and clever.

    I’m also unfamiliar with TOOTBLAN. It sounds like some sort of denture adhesive to me.

    • Posts: 0 Phylan

      TOOTBLAN = Thrown Out On the Bases Like a Nincompoop

      And as far as Bentham goes there is this thing called Wikipedia

      • Posts: 0 George

        TOOTBLAN still sounds like something asinine to me. When acronyms get that long, they could stand for almost anything, and shouldn’t be used. I know that text messages are largely responsible, but there are, believe it or not, a lot of people who find texting annoying at best and dangerous at worst.

        As far as the other clown, I see no reason to have to check Wikipedia when the article I’m reading uses some name for no reason except to be “current,” “cute,” or “clever.” I’m interested in BASEBALL, not Bentham.

        My point is that sometimes I think the authors of these pieces sometimes forget half their audience in favor of their own need to say, “Look what a talented author I am!!!”

  • Posts: 0 George

    Tony LaRussa should be indicted, not inducted. His crimes against baseball should get 5-10 at least.

    His strategies backfired last night because he’s overused his bullpen. He seems to forget that by using so many pitchers over and over and over that all those warmup throws count, too. It’s like each man has faced four batters when he’s only pitched to one. Some of this could probably be blamed on Dave Duncan, too, but I won’t go that far, because he’s possibly being overruled by Mr. Smartypants.

    • Posts: 2071 Brooks

      Avatar of Brooks

      Who in their right mind would even have Arthur Rhodes on the staff?!
      Yes, George – Larussa will be inducted – his ‘crimes’ against baseball will take him all the way to the HOF and regarded as one of the best managers of all time, like him or not.

      • Posts: 0 George

        Yes, unfortunately, I know he’ll be a hall-of famer, even if I personally think his strategies have changed the game for the worse, slowing it down to where watching a Cards game is akin to watching paint dry.

        He’s won a lot of games. He’s had a lot of talent to win games with. But I wonder at times that if a person were to really study the matter it might be discovered that many of his bullpen manipulations have led to numerous losses as well as the wins, and that he may have won even more games if he hadn’t pulled his shenanigans so much. I also wonder how many bullpen arms have been brutalized by the everyday warmups.

        Also, please note: I said absolutely nothing about Arthur Rhodes, and have no plans to say anything about him beyond pointing that out.

  • Posts: 0 atticus

    I too took the LCS off but I am really enjoying this World Series (obviously trying to make the best out of a bad situation as in my heart of hearts I know the Phillies at their best would demolish either of these two teams).

    Nothing made me happier last night than seeing LaRussa make another over-managing mistake. At the least he has cost his team two wins in the playoffs (last night and Game 3 NLDS with his intentional walk of Ruiz). Yet, threw it all the Cardinals seem to be surviving. It just further proves that the playoff structure is an absolute joke. Regardless of outcome I know the Phillies were the best team in 2011.

  • Posts: 41 landshark

    Avatar of landshark

    I’m just as upset and hurt about this season as any other fan, but barking at La Russa and the Cardinals for ”being the better team” and making it the World Series is just being a crybaby about it. Get over it! There is always next year. Just like the Yankees, and Giants when they beat us the last 2 years…They just played better ball, bottom line. Give credit where credit is due! They beat the best team in baseball. Fu*k them, but hats off to them

  • Posts: 5535 Lefty

    Avatar of Lefty

    “so thin it beggars belief”

    Well “beggars” can’t be choosers, you either like your team to play aggressive (risk taking) baseball or you don’t.


  • Posts: 0 davehist

    With Chase Utley’s two base-running plays, it is clear that he got it into his head that the Phillies were playing dead offensively and they needed something to wake them up. It’s unfortunate that he was thrown out on both plays, but at least he was trying to stir them up.

    • Posts: 2071 Brooks

      Avatar of Brooks

      It’s hard to blame Utley for being Utley on this -

  • Posts: 0 the ghost of luis aguayo

    Old farts couldn’t get it done. Camera shots of the Phils dugout during playoffs could be described as: moribund. Maybe Howard should, uh, WATCH the freakin’ game instead of that bowed-head praying crap thing he does. Oh well, onward and upward for next year.

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    Come on guys.
    Its not the best team in baseball not close.

    This team could not touch the 08 phillies.

    The line up is old tired and stale and has been for 2 years now. Seems like alot of the fans and even management? Want to bring them all back again.

    I have got news for you. If they do it again will be same result.

    Also at some point your pitchers in their mid 30s are gonna slow down or break down.
    Like your old line up has.

    Next year is the last year of the window of oppourtunity for the Lee/ Hallday dominance thing.
    I am hoping they get a suitable hungry younger line up to take advantage of it.

    Because the same old same old will be the same old same old result.

    Rhodes was on the roster was a slap in the face. And I remind you it was 3 pitches. I just worry that next year in a similar situation the old man and the phillies will go with the same game plan. And yuo know what? Same result.

    I despise Larussa and think he is over rated. But he looked like a genius vs the Phillies.
    Why ? Because my grandmother could take a medicore bullpen and manuever around the phillies old stale line up.
    If the cards win the series we will have to hear about what a master he is.

    • Posts: 5535 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      That sounds like Einstein’s definition of insanity- Do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result.

  • Posts: 2071 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    Andrew – a far cry from when you were saying this team is one for the ages eh?

  • Posts: 0 Andrew from Waldorf

    the pitching staff was.
    I wanted them to be good. And they got the shot in the arm from Pence.
    But it wore off.

    Remember Brooksie I love them too and want them to win and try so hard to be positive.

    I said these things after 2010. Trade Utley or rollins. Mix it up.

    Truth is Ill be hoping next year too.

    I just dont see it. I was also saying the 08 team was better and the line up was supect from day 1.

    The Howard crap gets old and Im off it.
    But I do not think a team can win a WS with him hitting 4th.

    The swing at a 3-0 pitch in 7th inning leading off down 1.
    Enforces it totaly.
    That carpenter laughed out loud at him and said after the game it was inspirational is another thing.

    But Im over the howard thing. IMO if they dont make the playoffs next year. And i think thats possible if they nring the same group back.
    RAJ and the old man must go.

    GMs are fired over the Howard contract. And they deserve to be.

  • Posts: 2071 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    I’m not convinced that RAJ has to go but definitely Cholly. RAJ has gotten some talent here. And, if they don’t do something about their approach they may not make the playoffs – the pitching is that good the Phils might back into it though.

  • Posts: 2071 Brooks

    Avatar of Brooks

    BTW, I soon will not have the luxury of posting in the wee hours. Come early December I have been given my notice to find another job after 22 1/2 years – zing!

    I may wind up ushering at CBP, make sure to look me up

    • Posts: 5535 Lefty

      Avatar of Lefty

      Sorry to hear that Brooks, best of luck to you.

  • Posts: 0 TheDipsy

    Brooks, that blows. You’ll do fine. You’re a survivor.

    I wouldn’t mind letting Chase go. I don’t think we can get value, or close to it, for him. He didn’t hit last year and he’s in the bottom half of fielding second basemen. If anyone can have a comeback year, Chase can. But that kinda stuff doesn’t happen.

    I remember when me and my dad, who was a very athletic guy, used to play tennis together. One day we were playing doubles and he wasn’t getting to balls that he always got. I asked him what was wrong during the game. When I got home I understood that he was just getting old. I make the comparison because sometimes its hard to admit that a player you have an emotional attachment to is just …… not as good anymore…be it age and/or injury. Chase might be there.

    Charlie CAN manage ticcy tac ball. He just doesn’t want to. He’s been a manager for a zillion years. Give him players with different skill sets and he’ll utilize them. Or he’ll get fired.

    The Dipsy

    • Posts: 0 George

      Dipsy, I can’t agree more here. Utley’s skills have diminished, and although that’s partly because of injuries, it’s mostly because of age. A man doesn’t heal as fast or as well after 30. Also, he loses a step or two, and if he doesn’t play for the first two months, he won’t notice and adjust. So a ball he’d have in his back pocket one year becomes a difficult chance the next. He can’t make it to the next base like he could the previous years, but he doesn’t yet realize it so he tries anyway. He thinks he can wait on that fastball, but his hands aren’t as quick, so he only fouls it off.

      And I agree with the Manuel thing, too. He certainly seemed to try to force things more when he had to; when people like Valdez and Martinez were in the lineup. The fact that the Phils players don’t make good contact means few hit and run plays. One good base stealer (Rollins)and one fast but not skilled base stealer (Victorino) means you don’t steal much. If you can’t make contact swinging, you’re not always going to make contact bunting. Blaming the team’s approach on Charlie is like blaming a chicken rancher for not selling beef.

  • Posts: 14 arminius

    Avatar of arminius

    My personal opinion on Tony Larusa is that Popeye could mange for a quarter century and win more World Series than LaRussa with less talent.

    • Posts: 0 George

      The Sea Hag probably could, too!

  • Posts: 0 EricC

    I can’t stand the Cardinals for basically all the same reasons, especially that smug manager.

    However, I can’t imagine ever hating anyone as much as the Bushes. So I am pulling for the Cardinals in the series.

    • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

      Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

      You do realize that the Bushes no longer own the Rangers correct?

  • Posts: 577 Brian Sr. of CO

    Avatar of Brian Sr. of CO

    “Nyjer Morgan look like Carlos Ruiz”. Wow. Say what you want about the Cards, not like I like them all that much, but seriously, Nujer Morgan is EASILY, FAR AND AWAY the most ignorrant self centered dirty player in MLB. On multiple occassions stepping several feet inside the basepath, just to throw an elbow to the catchers face and head, on a STANDUP run scored. I don’t like the Cardinals, but there is no single player in MLB I hate more than Nyger Morgan. If you intentionally try to hurt other players (gave one player a concussion with an elbow to the head) you should not be allowed to play. And to even put Carlos Ruiz in the same article is just absurd.

    Still, we keep re-hashing the series. Several of us are annoyed how it turned out, but we do not find a need to turn a team which was on fire, and match up well against our Phillies into the all of a sudden “hated” team. I can almost guarantee that had the Braves not completely 100% CHOKED in September…(ESPECIALLY the last game of the season when Cholly had put Schwimmer in, and not to mention, losing in the 9th inning) the Phillies would probably be playing in the WS right now. I am sure the Phillies would have made it past the NLDS, would have been a tall order with either Howard still being asleep as he was Game 3-5, or being out with Injury. Yet through all of this, when the Phillies beat the Braves on the last day of the series to propel the insanely hot Cards into the Post Season, several of us on here saw the end was coming. We did not see the end was coming because the team was old, or “horrible”, but because we saw that the Cards matched up well against the Phillies, and were hot. We were nay sayers, and idiots, and clueless, and don’t know baseball. I wish I was wrong, but when the Phillies beat the Braves to sweep them I sadly saw the end. I still believe, the 2012 team is a damn good team. You don’t win 102 games in a season, then all of sudden have a losing record the next year. Could the Phillies not win the division next year? Yes, but that is that the Braves see their short comings, and try to fix them (although I have a feeling their stud rookies with have similar sophemore slumps similar to Jason Heyward).

    Basically. Relax people. The Phillies lost because they had to face the hottest (NOT BEST) team in baseball, who also just so happened to match up very well against the Phillies. Trying to figure out how the people who saw this coming are idiots, and nay sayers, yet some of the people (not regulars on here) come on here and think the Phillies will be lucky to win 85 games next year. No way they make the playoffs, and they are not nay sayers? LOL. Trying to figure that one out. The Phillies are still a damn good team. Granted some of the players who were injured during the season (Blanton, Oswalt (granted he is in Phillies which I doubt), Hamels, Utley, Pence and Polly) are healthy, and Mayberry plays as well as he did this year (I suspect slightly better with more playing time) the Phillies should be expected to hit 95 wins with the pitching staff. This team does NOT suck people, get off the ledge, and don’t jump. It could be worse, we could have been like the Mets. Or maybe even the Red Sox who were also supposed to be in the WS, and did not even make the playoffs.

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