Karma’s a Witch! Take That, Cardinals

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Tuesday, July 24.  There are some things you just don’t do.  You don’t wear Yankee garb in Boston, or Red Sox duds in the Bronx. You don’t use an I-Phone in church (well, you shouldn’t.) But the biggest don’t in baseball is, you don’t remove a pitcher who’s throwing a no-hitter.  Most of all, if a guy’s in his MLB debut you surely don’t remove him from a potential no-hitter.

That’s what the so-called brain trust managing the Cardinals did and they got exactly what they deserved.  They were only ahead 1-0 and their underachieving bull pen gave up the no-no in the 8th and lost the game in the 9th 2-1 to the Reds, who with the Royals, Orioles and Mets are among the true garbage teams of 2018.

The St. Louis pitcher wasn’t Madison Bumgarner (Giants) or Noah Syndergaard (Mets) who might one day pitch a no-hitter in the future.  The Cardinals don’t own a pitcher with the stuff to throw a no-hitter.  This man has a much greater chance of being the next Domingo German rather than the next Juan Marichal.  This pitcher having the night of his life and then having it yanked away from him for no reason was Daniel Poncedeleon, a major leaguer making a spot start who nearly landed on a slab last summer. And I don’t mean a slab like a pitcher’s mound, I mean a coroner’s slab.

In May of 2017 Daniel Ponceddeleon was pitching for the Memphis Redbirds, the AAA team for the Cardinals. He was facing the Iowa Cubs in, (yes this is real) a Pacific Coast League game.  (I won’t even try to explain that travesty, I can’t.) In an instant, life itself was nearly stolen from Poncedeleon when the Cubs’ Victor Caratini slashed a line drive off his temple.

Some of you who read this piece know the phrase “traumatic brain injury.”  It can happen in many ways with different results-very few of them leaving a positive impact.  Boxers almost invariably die following the sort of brain surgery Poncedeleon needed.  The one boxer I know of who survived was Gerald McCleland, and his survival left him blind, 80% deaf and unable to fend for himself.  During 1989–90 I dated a lady who had suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) when she was struck by a car.  After 4 months in a coma She was in a wheelchair, and would be  for life.  One of my nephews suffered a TBI at the end of 2002.  His speech is difficult to understand now, but his muscles put mine to shame.  He can work me into the ground, and as a result of this fact employer after employer has hired him though he’ll never be the glib talker I am.  What percentage of able-bodied folks don’t feel like working while my nephew is?

And then there’s Daniel Poncedeleon.  To call him lucky doesn’t even begin to tell the tale.  He spent 3 weeks in the hospital following his surgery, an incredibly short time considering how close he came to meeting the Grim Reaper. To the astonishment of his doctors, he was cleared for baseball activities by August though he didn’t let fly a pitch with intent until spring training. He began the year in Memphis and shredded the competition, 9-3 with a 2.15 ERA in defiance of the light air in many PCL cities. He was called up briefly from June 11-15 without being needed.  Yesterday The Cards’ pitching staff, playing its sixth game in 5 days was desperate for a starter and only prayed he could hold his own. He went so far beyond that.

The Reds were as helpless as Poncedeleon’s PCL opponents have been this season.  Through 5 innings nobody scored and the only hits belonged to the visiting Cardinals.  In the sixth, Yadier Molina singled home the game’s first run. An inning later, Tommy Phamm doubled and appeared to have reached third for a triple.  So thought the third base umpire Quinn Wolcott and so it should have stood. Replay has made a joke of baseball, and no way should this play have been open to challenge.  With Phamm on third where he belonged, God only knows what the Cardinals might have done and how long the least on Poncedeleon’s neck would have been.  When he left after 7 he had thrown 116 pitches, which is nothing.  Nolan Ryan was just warming up at 116 pitches.  Luis Tiant, well past his prime and winning by voodoo threw 163 pitches in game 4 of the 1975 World Series without a no-hitter to pitch for. Considering the position Poncedeleon is in, much more likely to be a career minor leaguer than an MLB star, the interim Cardinals’ manager Mike Shildt made what hopefully will be the biggest wrong decision of a career that will end soon, if there is a God.  Knowing his bull pen was gassed, Shildt still trusted them over the man having a night he will almost certainly never have again. Not only did the bull pen blow the no-hitter, they didn’t even leave Poncedeleon with a win to his credit.

It hardly took a second in the last of the 8th inning for the no-hitter to go up in smoke. As brutal as that was, the last of the 9th was worse. Bud Norris, the Cardinals’ closer gave up a game-tying home run to the Reds’ Eugenio Suarez, then a bases-loaded single to former Met Dilson Herrera to cost the team the game.

Since expansion began in 1961, only 4 men had carried no-hitters as far as 7 innings in their first MLB outing, as Poncedeleon did last night.  Only one, the Dodgers’ Ross Stripling who did it against the Giants has done it since Richard Nixon was president. One was the forgettable Billy Rohr of the 1967 Red Sox.  Another was Rudi May who did it in 1965 and lasted more than a decade in the show.  The last before Stripling was Bill Slayback who stifled the Yankees through 7 hitless innings  for the Tigers in 1972 and was done by 1974.  His best contribution to the sport was a song he co-wrote, called “Move Over Babe, Here Comes Henry,” about Henry Aaron’s pursuit of the Babe’s 714 home runs. Only God,  who Poncedeleon put his faith in following his injury, knows whether he will become another Rohr, Slayback, Stripling or May.  Only time will tell how hitters will adjust to him, then how he will adjust to their adjustments.  That’s how the game works.  On a night he’ll never forget, he should have had his chance for baseball immortality.

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