Hi friends. Here’s how I see baseball on this Thursday, October 1. Nothing has been normal about the year 2020 or its baseball season, but two of yesterday’s 8 games brought back all that ever was great about this game. The Braves and Reds locked horns in an old-fashioned pitching duel, while the Yankees and Indians slugged it out in a game that would be remembered forever if it were a World Series game. The Bronx Bombers’ 10-9 win sends them to the Division Series in San Diego Monday. The Braves’ 1-0 win in 13 innings was just their first step.
In the early afternoon, the Braves and Reds met in game 1 of their wild card series in Atlanta. In a decade or so, hundreds of thousands of locals will claim they were at yesterday’s game and hope their audience forgets that fans weren’t permitted. Atlanta turned to Max Fried (pronounced Freed) against the Reds’ Trevor Bauer. In 3 years, Fried went from barely breaking even in low A-ball (2016) to winning 17 games in 2019. He went a perfect 7–0 with a 2.25 ERA for this shortened season. His foe, Trevor Bauer made his MLB debut in 2012-the year Fried was drafted out of high school. Bauer played college ball at UCLA, where Fried would have gone if he hadn’t chosen the low pay and long bus rides that are minor league baseball. In 2016, while Fried was marking time waiting for the 2017 minor league season, Bauer caused controversy by suffering a bizarre drone injury to a finger on his pitching hand. He could only pitch one inning in the LCS and lost two World Series games to the Cubs. While Fried was making his bones in the bigs, Bauer won 17 in 2017 and a dozen more in 2018. Bauer’s drone injury was forgiven, if not condoned. He went too far on July 28, dissing manager Terry Francona publicly. The custom is, when a manager comes out to get his pitcher who hasn’t performed well, the pitcher hands the ball to the manager. Bauer threw the ball from the mound over the centerfield fence. That bought him a one-way ticket, theoretically to Oblivion in Cincinnati where the team had been dreadful for years.
Bauer seems to have learned from that awful moment in July, 2019. This season, while his record is just 5–4, his ERA of 1.73 led the NL. Nobody else could have started game 1 for the Reds. This was the first playoff series they had reached since 2012 when the Giants took 3 in a row to win the Division Series, 3 games to 2.
From the beginning, it was clear runs would be at a premium on this balmy day in Georgia. Working 7.2 innings, Bauer struck out a dozen Bravos and gave up just 2 hits. Raisel Iglesias struck out 4 more while holding the game scoreless through the 9th. Lucas Sims struck out one in his inning, Michael Lorenzen struck out 4 more in his 2 innings. No postseason game in all baseball history had gone this far without a run. The longest scoreless duel I can recall is the 7th game of the 1991 World Series when Jack Morris went the distance for the Twins. Meantime, 8 Atlanta Braves pitchers gave up 11 hits without yielding a run to the Reds. Fried lasted 7 innings, giving 6 hits, but walking no one. For reasons I’ll never understand, a parade of Braves’ hurlers followed Fried-Chris Martin, Mark Melancon, Will Smith, Darren O’Day, Tyler Matzek (who struck out 4 while he lasted), Shane Green and A.J. Minter.
Remember, since this is the postseason, nobody got a free cookie, which is to say a runner on second base to start each half inning. This was extra inning baseball as it should be played. With no free cookies, the Reds loaded the bases in the 11th but failed to reach the Promised Land. The Reds had men on first and third with nobody out in the 12th. They got there the old-fashioned way, but they didn’t score. The Braves had their lead-off hitter on base in 4 of the final 5 innings, but through the 12th that did them no good. The Reds filled the bases with one out in the 13th thanks to 2 hits and a walk. Still, no joy. At long last, after more than 4 hours, it was the Reds’ Archie Bradley who finally flinched. He gave up two hits, putting runners on first and third. Amir Garret came in but gave up the game winning base knock to Freddie Freeman. He singled home Christian Pache for the winning run, the only run.
In frigid, rainy Cleveland, it was a one-run game but as different a game as you could imagine from the tug-of-war in Atlanta. This was game 2 in Cleveland against the most hated franchise in the game if not in all pro sports, the Yankees. The night before, while President Trump used schoolyard bullying tactics on Joe biden, the team of bullies from the Bronx (as their detractors see them) came in and pounded Shane Bieber and the Indians, 12-3. Last night’s season hung in the balance for the home team. This game had more twists and turns than on a mountain road through the Rockies. To start with, the game almost failed to begin. For reasons beyond my understanding, MLB decided the game shouldn’t start as scheduled at 7:08 PM. Some genius believed rain was imminent and the game was delayed. No rain happened, and some 45 minutes later the game began. That’s when the rain showed up. With no fans in the stands (except for two gate crashers who finished up in jail,) you could hear the rain pounding on any hard surface that would conduct sound. The Indians were up 1-0 when the umps intervened. 33 minutes later, the game started again, as did the Tribe’s assault. They were up 4-0 before the Yankees could bat in the second. In some recent games, (see their 14–1 destruction by the Blue Jays,) this would be the signal for the Yankees to fold up and hope for the best in game 3. Their game 2 starter, Masahiro Tanaka had a rare playoff meltdown, the sort of performance he normally saves for the regular season.
The game put me in mind of game 7 of the 1960 World Series, when the Yankees also fell behind 4–0 early but rallied mightily only to fall short at the end. This time, the Yankees put up a run in the second on a Giancarlo Stanton home run. Their 4 runs in the 4th were provided on one mighty swing, a grand slam by former Indian Gio Urshela. The Yanks put up 1 in the 5th and two in the 6th which made it 8-6 Yankees. The Indians had put up 2 in the 5th, temporarily tying things at 6 all. They hadn’t immediately chased Tanaka who lasted into the 5th. When he left, Chad Greene gave up the game-tying hit. The Tribe tied it again at 8 all in the 7th, then took a 9-8 lead an inning later. But like the 1960 Yankees, this version put up 2 in the 9th, with DJ Lemahieu singling home the tie breaker.
What happened next could really have gotten ugly. I don’t know how many fans thought of it as it was happening, but I sure did. With 2 out and nobody on, Aroldis Chapman struck his man out … but the ball eluded Gary Sanchez’ mitt and the runner reached first. All I could think of was Brooklyn Dodgers’ catcher Mickey Owen who dropped a third strike in a similar spot leading to a massive Yankee rally. But the Indians were out of ammunition. Their next batter struck out and the catcher held onto it, ending the longest 9-inning game in history, 4 hours and 50 minutes not counting the 76 minutes of rain delays. Even with the dropped third strike, Chapman’s was the best showing by any Yankee pitcher. He worked 2 full innings, striking out 4 and not giving a run.
The Braves and Reds are about to start as I finish this piece. The Yankees earned themselves a break until Monday, as did their foes, the Rays who took out the Blue Jays in 2 straight. These were two games that would be special in any year, but are that much more special because of the brand of baseball we’ve had to put up with in 2020.0