NLCS Game 3: Rain men, signaling, and bad scorekeeping

Random items from Monday’s Cardinals-Nationals game...

I once asked a big league position player if he thought he could tell the difference between a position player and a pitcher if he didn’t know either one of them and they were both in street clothes.

Once he got done laughing, he said of course; just look at ‘em – pitchers are a mess.

In his opinion a lot of pitchers had bad bodies, but golden arms attached to those bad bodies and not too many position players could afford to walk around with the physique of Bartolo Colon.

More than one position player has referred to pitchers as “non-athletes” although they tend to do it when the cameras and microphones aren’t on.

If that seems cruel maybe it helps to know baseball humor is brutal and nobody is exempt from its caste system.

Infielders will suggest outfielders do so little during a game they ought to be forced to buy a ticket to get in, position players will tell a DH he ought to get part-time pay for part-time work and if a reliever gets a one-pitch out and is then pulled from the game when he gets back to the dugout somebody might ask if he actually gets paid for that shit.

And catchers think everybody has it easier than they do.

(BTW: catchers are right.)

There are certainly exceptions, but truth be told – and that’s why we’re here – pitchers are generally treated like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man; handy if you’re counting cards or need some pitches thrown, but a liability in a whole bunch of other situations.

When AL pitchers have to go to the plate in interleague play the most important instruction they receive is this: for God’s sake, don’t get hurt.

Sometimes that extends to not allowing pitchers to swing the bat – just take three strikes and come back to the bench – or, if they somehow find their way on base, being told not to slide.

This is also why position players won’t allow a pitcher to catch an infield pop-up; they don’t trust them to make the play.

All of which brings us to our first item.

Ozuna’s base running

In the second inning the Cardinals Marcell Ozuna got caught off second base on ball hit back to the mound. Stephen Strasburg caught the ball and then did what he was supposed to do: run directly at the runner and force him to head for a base.

When that happens base runners are supposed to head to the next base – in Ozuna’s case that would have been third – because if the defense is going to screw up the play the runner wants that screw up to allow him to advance 90 feet.

But Ozuna stood still and let Strasburg run up and tag him without a throw. Lots of pitchers have trouble with any throw that isn’t 60 feet six inches — that Rain Man shit again — and Ozuna never forced Strasburg to make one.

Rendon’s double

Some severely misguided people have argued that a strikeout isn’t worse than any other kind of out, which is (and what follows is a technical term used in the big leagues) a steaming pile of horse shit.

Getting the ball in play forces the other team to play the game and puts pressure on their defense. If all you’re going to do is strikeout, I could be a big league shortstop although I’m not sure I could handle throwing the ball around the horn after a punchout.

Give me a job in the big leagues and I’ll work on it.

These days it should be more important than ever to get the ball in play because so many teams are playing mediocre defenders because those mediocre defenders hit home runs.

During the regular season Anthony Rendon hit 34 homers, led the league in RBI and struck out just 86 times which – considering the way things are currently going in baseball – is outstanding. For comparison’s sake, the Cards Paul Goldschmidt also hit 34 home runs, but struck out 166 times.

Getting the ball in play an extra 80 times is at least part of why Rendon had 29 more runs driven in than Goldschmidt and some of the same people who don’t care about strikeouts at all care passionately about runs scored.

Go figure.

In the bottom of the third inning Rendon avoided a strikeout when he reached out and made contact with a slider, down and out of the zone and hit a fly ball to left which – through the magic of bad defense and even worse scorekeeping – turned into an RBI double.

Ozuna’s sliding catch   

I don’t know how a scorekeeper watches that Rendon fly ball hit Ozuna in the middle of the glove, rattle around, come out and not call it an error, but that’s what happened. It would have been the third out of the inning and the Nationals would have scored just one run instead of four.

And to make matters worse, Ozuna attempted a sliding catch – which is probably at least part of why the ball popped out of his glove – that didn’t appear to be necessary.

That sliding catch – the one where it looks like the outfielder is sliding into a base while catching the ball – is used when the outfielder is approaching a wall and doesn’t want to slam into it face-first which wasn’t a danger on the Rendon fly ball.

Sliding slows you down and since Ozuna got there in time sliding, he could have made the catch while remaining on his feet, but it wouldn’t have looked nearly as cool although having to chase the ball you dropped to tends to fuck-up your coolness factor.

Signaling

Unless you don’t watch baseball at all or have the same eyeglass prescription as Stevie Wonder, you’ve seen a player get a hit and then make a “signal” back to his bench.

According to an article I found on the internet, in the Nationals case it’s the “Baby Shark” chomping signal that became a thing when teammate Gerardo Parra started using that children’s song as his walk up music to honor his 2-year-old daughter.

Apparently, “signaling” started in the World Baseball Classic when Latin players were doing it to their teammates and everybody else wanted in on the act.

So when a guy gets a hit, the bench sends him a signal and the guy on base is supposed to signal back. Meanwhile, the base coaches are rolling their eyes thinking, “Can we get this shit over with so I can give you a sign?”

Strasburg out of position

The Cards scored their one run when Juan Soto did a big crow hop, slipped on the grass and threw the ball back to the infield from his knees.

Soto managed to miss two cut-off men and Stephen Strasburg who was standing around in the middle of the infield facing the wrong way. The ball got past Strasburg before he could react and had he actually been facing the right direction, he could have stopped it and saved a run.

Or…

He could have been backing up home plate which is where he was probably supposed to be and that either would have stopped the runner from advancing from third or maybe given the Nationals a play at the plate.

When you’re winning 7-0 it doesn’t make much difference, but that’s the kind of stuff teams want to clean up so the same thing doesn’t happen when you’re winning 1-0.

On the other hand…

You want to remind Strasburg he can’t turn into a spectator – which a lot of pitchers do – when the ball is in play, but you also want to pat him on the back for giving you seven innings, striking out 12, not allowing a walk or an earned run.

I also understand he’s an excellent driver.