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Yesterday’s Pregame Pepper section stated that 2021 marks the first time the Dodgers and Giants have met in postseason play. Not exactly: the long-time rivals locked horns in unscheduled playoffs in 1951, when both were on the East Coast, and 1962. The Giants won both best-of-three series in the last inning of the last game. The first one is still remembered for Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ‘round the world.” Because those playoffs were unscheduled, statistics from those games were included in regular-season stats — enabling Thomson to win the 1951 NL home run crown and Larry Jansen to lead the league with 23 victories (tied with Sal Maglie).
Did You Know?
Despite the fact that both Wild Card games started more than an hour too late to retain the young audience MLB craves, the terrible TBS twosome on the Cardinals-Dodgers mic failed to mention that Trea Turner hit two grand-slams in the final weekend, though they mentioned several times that he hit one on the final day . . .
Hard to believe Aaron Judge waited until the last inning of the last game to collect the first walk-off hit of his career — an infield single that beat Tampa Bay, 1-0, and allowed the Yankees to claim the AL’s second wild-card spot . . .
Also hard to believe Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi had a better WAR than New York’s Gerrit Cole this year . . .
The Atlanta Braves own more division titles (21) than any other team . . .
The NL Wild Card tie-breaker game of Oct. 1, 2007 was more wild than any actual wild-card game: the Rockies rallied for three in 13th inning against future Hall of Fame closer Trevor Hoffman to beat the Padres, 9-8 . . .
That red-hot Colorado club eventually advanced to its only World Series but was cooled off by snow delays, helping the Boston Red Sox to a surprising sweep.
Don’t blow the goat horns
Be merciful to Reyes and Nevin—in that order
By Jeff Kallman
The first thing Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright did, after the Cardinals’ season ended with a two-run homer 10 rows into Dodger Stadium’s left-field bleachers Wednesday night, was put his arms around Alex Reyes, the relief pitcher who surrendered Chris Taylor’s National League Wild Card game-winning blast.
“I just gave him gave him a huge hug,” Wainwright said post-game, after the Dodgers bought themselves a division series showdown with their lifelong-rival Giants.
Told him we love him, told him I loved him and gave him another big hug and just told him how special he was as a player and as a teammate, as a person. You know, it’s all you can say in a moment like that. He doesn’t probably want to hear any of it, but it’s all true. He’s a great teammate, is a great player. He’s a great pitcher. He’s a great friend, and I hate seeing anyone go through that, but he’s got an incredible future ahead of him.
Here’s hoping Wainwright and his teammates don’t change their minds. At all. Because, unlike Yankee third base coach Phil Nevin in the American League Wild Card game the night before, Reyes didn’t get destroyed trying to do what he knew was the absolute wrong thing to do.
The only thing Reyes did was shake off Cody Bellinger stealing second with Taylor at the plate, then throw Taylor a slider on 2-1 that he had no intention of hanging just under the belt. Reyes had no premeditated intention of watching it fly into the left- field bleachers putting an end to the Cardinals’ season.
Every Cardinal on the wild-card roster had Reyes’s back. “He was an All-Star closer the first half of the season,” Wainwright said. “He put us on his back a lot of the time this year. We all completely believe he's going to come back strong.”
Would that every player beaten as vividly as Reyes was by Taylor Thursday night had that kind of moral support going forward. This wasn’t Lenny Dykstra and Curt Schilling throwing Mitch Williams under the proverbial bus after Williams—working with Phillies pitching coach Johnny Podres failing to order him off the slide-step—surrendered Joe Carter’s 1993 World Series-winning homer.
Nevin, a baseball lifer who should have known better, made a mistake that turned the American League Wild Card game from the possibility of a Yankee comeback into the likelihood of the Red Sox holding on to win against their century-long blood rivals. It helped escort Mystique and Aura from the building yet again. (In this century, for World Series rings: the Olde Towne Team 4, the Empire Emeritus 1.)
With Aaron Judge on first, Giancarlo Stanton at the plate, and Red Sox reliever Ryan Brasier on the mound spelling starter Nathan Eovaldi in the top of the sixth, Stanton ripped one that everyone in Fenway Park and watching ESPN thought would clear the Green Monster. Until it didn’t.
The ball caromed high off the Monster and back onto the outfield. Red Sox left fielder Alex Verdugo overran the ball just enough that center fielder Enrique Hernandez running right behind him reached and speared it, throwing a perfect one-hopper to shortstop Xander Bogaerts in short left. Bogaerts whirled and fired a perfect strike home.
The problem was that Nevin—experienced enough to know how such Monster balls play—still thought he could send Judge home despite Judge rounding third at the moment Bogaerts threw home. Catcher Kevin Plawecki was only too happy to take Bogaerts’s strike and drop a tag on the diving Judge about four feet before his outstretched hand could touch the plate.
Instead of first and third and one out, the Yankees now had a man on second and two out for all-or-nothing slugger Joey Gallo at the plate. And Gallo popped out to end both the inning and, for all intents and purposes, the Yankees’ chances.
If Nevin needed a reminder, he got it in the bottom of the sixth. Facing Luis Severino working in relief of Gerrit Cole, and with Bogaerts on first with a one-out walk, Verdugo hit a high liner to the back of right field that bounded off the far shorter wall and squirted toward right center. Bogaerts—whose two-run homer in the first started the Red Sox scoring—slid home easily enough.
Sure enough, social media battered Nevin after the game, and it didn’t all come from Yankee fans still spoiled by the team’s 20th Century dominance. Long experienced men make fatal errors late enough in life, or in baseball. They don’t deserve summary execution for it. Not even if it sends the Yankees home for the winter without yet another shot at a World Series ring.
As I write, Nevin has yet to be taken on the perp walk. That’s a good thing. But with manager Aaron Boone’s contract now expired, there’s always the chance that Boone—for whose head Yankee fans have called consistently upon the first bad pitch, bad plate appearance, bad play . . . from Opening Day forward—won’t be retained and one or two of his coaches may get pinked, too.
Cardinal Country is a far more empathetic land. They’re comfortable enough with their history that they get when a man tries his best but fails, because in reality the only way a pitcher can “fail” is when a hitter in that moment is just that degree better.
Even in humiliating defeat, Reyes is in a far happier place. He doesn’t pitch for a team whose fan base hunts goats too eagerly while living by the watchword, “To err is human, to forgive must never be Yankee policy.”
Jeff Kallman is an IBWAA Life Member who writes Throneberry Fields Forever. He has written for the Society for American Baseball Research, The Hardball Times, Sports-Central, and other publications. He has lived in Las Vegas since 2007 and, alas, has been a Mets fan since the day they were born.
Predicting Postseason Results Is A Crap-Shoot For New York Post Pundits
By Dan Schlossberg
When it comes to predicting the results of the baseball playoffs, even the experts can’t agree.
The seven sportswriters whose picks were published by The New York Post Tuesday picked five different 2021 world champions.
Greg Joyce, Ian O’Connor, and Mike Vaccaro picked Tampa Bay, Joel Sherman picked Los Angeles, Mike Puma went with San Francisco, Dan Martin chose Houston, and Ken Davidoff selected the Atlanta Braves — a team that has won one world title in each of the three cities it called home.
Of the seven would-be prognosticators, only Puma picked a hometown favorite — the New York Yankees — to advance as far as the final round. But he also suggested San Francisco would knock off the Yankees in six games.
With seven-game World Series increasingly rare, only O’Connor and Sherman said the Series would last that long, both times with the Rays involved.
Tampa Bay has never won a Fall Classic but that will change this year, if the three Post writers who picked the enigmatic but energetic Rays prove right.
All seven sportswriters erroneously selected the Yankees to beat the Red Sox in the Wild Card game, even though the Bostonians had the huge home-field advantage of playing at historic Fenway Park.
And all but Sherman picked San Francisco to advance to the National League Championship Series after leading the majors with a franchise-record 107 wins.
If Martin is correct in selecting the Astros to go all the way, it will give Dusty Baker his first World Championship as a manager after 22 seasons of futility. Baker won once as a player with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
If Sherman is right, the Dodgers will have consecutive world titles for the first time in team history. Los Angeles won 106 times, most ever by a second-place team, in 2021.
Tampa Bay has lost its only two World Series appearances, in 2008 and 2020, but never had a 100-win season before either. The Little Engine That Could prevailed over a tough field as Beast of the East in the American League. Both AL wild-cards, the Red Sox and Yankees, came from that same grouping.
Several sweeps were forecast by the Post writers. Davidoff picked the Giants over the Cardinals in the NLDS, Martin said the Rays will sweep the Yankees in the ALDS, and Vaccaro had the Astros sweeping the White Sox in the other ALDS series.
It’s interesting to note that Davidoff’s projected World Series matchup would pit the oldest manager in the American League, 76-year-old Tony La Russa of the Chicago White Sox, against the oldest manager in the National League, 65-year-old Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves.
As baseball history tells us, age is a matter of mind; if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers the game for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Ball Nine, Here’s The Pitch, and more. He’s also the author of 38 books on baseball. E.mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
After 329 starts, San Francisco’s Johnny Cueto finally made a relief appearance . . .
Fernando Tatis has joined Fred McGriff as the only Padres with home run crowns . . .
After hitting .338 with the Dodgers following a mid-season trade from Washington, versatile Trea Turner ran away with his first NL batting title . . .
Unsung American League MVP candidate Sal Perez solidified his reputation as the best catcher in the majors by leading both leagues with 48 homers, tying Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. as well as Jorge Soler’s Kansas City club record, plus 121 runs batted in . . .
The Atlanta Braves have produced consecutive National League RBI leaders: Marcell Ozuna last year and Adam Duvall this year . . .
Will we ever hear from Ozuna or Trevor Bauer again? Both finished the season on administrative leave — which does not stop their salaries — but face likely suspensions once MLB finishes its separate investigations of their sordid off-the-field escapades.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.