If It Happened in October; Walk-off Grand Slam in Chicago

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Hi all.  Here’s how I see baseball on this Monday, August 13.  If last night’s Cubs’ 4-3 win at Wrigley happened in October, fans would talk about the walk-off grand slam by David Bote (Rhymes with Brodie) for years.

In some cities, by the last of the 9th with the home team down 3-0 the park would be largely deserted.  In Atlanta and Los Angeles the fans arrive late and leave early as a matter of course.  At Yankee Stadium, fans who live in Jersey leave early to “beat the traffic” over the George Washington Bridge. This is truly a cabalistic ritual since nobody has beaten traffic in New York since the days of horse-drawn wagons.  The author O. Henry wrote a short story where a massive traffic jam of early cars and horse-drawn vehicles gave a shy suitor a chance to plead his case and ultimately win the heart of his secret love.

Wrigley Field is another story.  As good as the train system is out there, the fans don’t leave while the Cubs have life, especially in recent years when the home town team has actually been good. They’ve had their chances to celebrate.  Back on June 6, Jason Heyward hit a walk-off grand slam in the 9th against the Phillies.  More recently, last night’s hero David Bote tied a game in the 9th, setting the stage for Anthony Rizzo to win it with a blast. Bote may not hit a lot of home runs, but if they continue to be high-impact shots like the one he hit last night he could be called Bruiser Bote.

As the 9th began it sure didn’t look like the fans would finish the night by repeatedly chanting the name of Bote or any other Cub.  Max Scherzer had struck out 11 in 7 innings.  Why he was removed is a mystery to any old-school baseball man who remembers when pitchers were real men and they pitched 9 innings or even more if needed.  Especially considering the shambles that is the Nationals’ staff,  Scherzer needed to be left in. Just for starters, with Stephen Strasberg on the DL his team is reduced to using Tommy Millone who couldn’t make it with the Mets.  Their closer Sean Doolittle is out with a “stress reaction” in his left foot.  He may or may not pitch in August. Kelvin Herrera, their big-ticket acquisition has trouble with his rotator cuff. That left Davy Martinez, the Nats’ manager scrambling and he should have gone with his extremely capable ace.  He didn’t.

Martinez turned to well-worn Ryan Madson, a pitcher the Royals wouldn’t put on their World Series roster in 2015.  Madson will be 38 in 2 weeks and looked it last night.  He got the first man he saw, but gave up a debatable infield hit to the next man, Jason Heyward.  How do I know it was debatable?  The great Chicago radio broadcaster Pat Hughes, who in the Chicago tradition always speaks well of his team said it should have been an error against the Nationals’ Wilmer Difoe and not a base hit to Heyward’s credit. He called it as a routine grounder which Difoe booted.  Madson plunked the next hitter Alfred Almora JR.  with a change-up. Madson dug deep and retired the next man but hit the Cubs’ catcher Wilson Contreras to fill the bases. David Bote came up as a pinch-hitter.  He was brought up to replace Kris Bryant while his ailing shoulder mends.  With a 2-2 count, Madson let fly.  As Pat Hughes described it later, the Nats’ catcher Matt Wieters knew even before the bat met the ball. As he watched Bote swing, Wieters hung his head in disappointment.  The sound was awesome to hear.  Thanks to modern technology, if you have a good set of headphones(and the announcers happen to be quiet)  you can hear the mighty crack of a home run like the one Madson unloaded. As a broadcaster for New Britain, I heard that sound when Manny Ramirez and Jason Peyton launched home runs into the twilight zone against our pitchers. The crack really did sound different from an ordinary hit, and the ball flew high, wide and handsome into the Chicago night.  It landed on the roof of an outbuilding to the left of center field, measured at 442 feet from the dish. The crowd went ballistic, probably waking up households for blocks around, considering the sonic boom happened near Midnight.

Cole Hamels had started the game for the Cubs.  It was his first game at Wrigley since being traded by Texas and he was all the Cubs could have wanted.  He struck out 9 giving up just one run. The Nats put up 2 in the 9th and hoped it was all the insurance they would need.  It wasn’t.

We’ve had a few walk-off grand slams this season in MLB.   Jason Heyward hit one in June, Mookie Betts and Brian Dozier hit them on July 14 and 15 before the All-Star break. But none of these were pinch-hit walk-off grand slams. The Cubs haven’t had a pinch-hitter end the game with a grand slam since Earl Averill did the trick in 1959 against the Milwaukee Braves. Only 6 men had done the deed since 1925, and only 3 of those were down to their last strike as Bote was. The last time it happened, the Cubs were on the wrong end.  In 2011, when  Houston was still in the National League, Brian Bogusevic hit a big fly with the bases full at Minute Maid Park to end the game against the Cubs’ Carlos Marmol. The Braves’ Brooks Conrad had managed the deed just a year before.  His pinch-hit walk-off slammer was the first since Roger Freed hit one in 1979. The other were the Cardinals’ Carl Taylor in 1970, the Pirates’ Jack Phillips in 1950 and the Reds’ Samuel Byrd in 1936.  By the way, the final score when Byrd hit his walk-off grand slam in 1936 was 4–3.  Only his game and Bote’s game last night ended with that score.

Owing to a rainout earlier this month, the Braves and Marlins are already underway as I write this. Their game is the first of a split doubleheader.  The pitching matchup of the night has the misfortune to be a  makeup game. The Yankees’ Luis Severino and the Mets’ Jacob DeGrom will duel it out.  I’ve been at some makeup games where only the employees were there.  Hopefully the marketing the teams have done will bring out the crowd to see a match of two of the game’s brightest young pitching stars. Also the rainout that made this game necessary happened months ago, giving the teams time to let their fan bases know the new date.  Both pitchers are coming off wins on Wednesday. For DeGrom a win is a rarity this year in spite of his 1.77 ERA.  Mike Clevenger pitches for the Indians in Cincinnati where he made his MLB debut two years ago.  He faces Homer Bailey who was battered yet again his last time out, giving up 11 hits and 5 runs without surviving the 4th inning. He and the Mets’ David Wright have to realize the party’s been over for a long time. There needs to be a Steve Carlton award for the player who stayed too long, and if it existed this year it would be a tie and you would have to throw Felix Hernandez into the mix.  His numbers haven’t been good for several years now.  Everybody can’t be Bartolo Colon. The Blue Jays will welcome Sean Reid-Foley to the majors as they face the Royals. The righthander is considered the 10th-best prospect the  Jays own. He will turn 23 at the end of this month. Born in Guam, he went to high school in Jacksonville and was the Jays’ second draft pick in 2014. If the Jays hadn’t called he would have played for coach Mike Martin at Florida State. His opponent will be another rookie, the Royals’ Brad Keller. The Mariners and A’s meet in a critical series as far as Yankee fans are concerned.  Seattle is just half a game behind the Yankees for the first wild card slot and have been as hot as the Yankees have lately.  Had the Yankees not taken 6 of 7 following the debacle in Boston, either Oakland or Seattle (or maybe both) would have overrun them.  Seattle buried the defending World Series champion Astros this weekend. Seattle sends out Marco Gonzales in Oakland against the A’s Sean Manaea. The Giants-Dodgers matchup tonight would have been the best on the planet a couple of years ago, but both Clayton Kershaw and Madison Bumgarner who pitch tonight aren’t the pitchers they were in 2015 or 2016. The last few seasons Kershaw has made annual trips to the shelf, and last year Bumgarner lost much of the year following a well-publicized dirt bike wreck.  He’s had his share of unrelated injuries this year as well.

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