Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Worst Game Ever Played

Bring out your dead . . . baserunners

On a chilly evening that felt more like December than May, Santa Leyva's generosity knew no bounds.

Last night I scored a Richmond Braves-Charlotte Knights game for Baseball Info Solutions. I set out for the game straight from work in a cheerful mood. After all, it was a baseball game, and I hadn't seen one live and up close in a couple of weeks---since my four-games-in-four-days bender.

It was a game, all right. I'm just not sure it was baseball. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't even a game; it was more like an ordeal. Whatever it was, it took 13 innings. When it ended, it was really, really cold. The wind was whipping. I was one of nine (9) (NINE!) people left in the upper-deck behind home plate. (There were probably 200 remaining on the lower level.) Every one of the comrades was standing for the entirety of the extra baseball, myself included; that's right, I scored the game standing up. We had to stay warm.

But I love baseball, and I was wearing a sweater. And there's something to be said for ample leg-room, right? So, when it comes down to it, I don't know if I was as uncomfortable as I was offended---offended by exceedingly bad baseball.

Where do I begin?

Oh, let's begin at a logical point, with Charlotte's starter, Heath Phillips. How many runs would you think Richmond pushed across against Phillips, given his stat line coming in?

16.2 IP, 26 H, 22 R, 10 HR, 11 BB, 14 K; 0-3, 10.80 ERA.

That's right; 10 homers. In 16.2 innings. If they cared at all about the International League, the gambling degenerates would have set Phillips' line at something like 3.1 IP, 5 H, 6 R, 4 BB, 3 K, 3 HR.

The Braves got nothing. Nothing. In five innings, they managed three hits.

Well, how did the Braves fare against "El Impaciento," Jorge Toca? Check out this stat line:

94 AB; .266 AVG/.263 OBP/.511 SLG; 6 HR, 16 RBI; 0 BB, 14 K.

That's right; zero walks. In almost 100 plate appearances. That's Jose Reyes territory.
In the top of the 12th last night, Toca walked.

The R-Braves were shut down by a guy who serves more homers than the White Sox announcing booth and walked a guy with Baseball On-Set Adult AD/HD, and they won---4-3, on a 13th inning single in the left-center gap.

On what would have been his 100th at-bat, "Swing Away Jorge!" finally walked. Despite the frigid weather, I managed to scrawl on the margin of my scorecard: "TOCA: BB!!!!!!!!!"

The Braves could have won in the 12th, but a baserunner was thrown out at home.

The Knights could have positioned themselves to win in the top of the 12th, but a baserunner was thrown out at home. (More on that one in a moment; as Ned Ryerson would say, it's a doozy.)

The Braves have The Brothers Childers in their bullpen. Yeah, you heard me: a pair of brothers, Matt and Jason, are the Braves' short relievers. Consider them a poor man's Drew connection. Last night, Matt gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the eighth, only to be in line to win it when the Braves ralled in the bottom half, . . . only to get a no-decision when Jason blew the save in the ninth.

Given the chance to save a victory for brother Matt, Jason Childers spat and the ground, blew the save, and screamed, "This is what you get for being Mom's favorite!"

All of that was just comedy, actually. The real pain was inflicted by the Charlotte manager, Nick Leyva (the former manager of the Phillies, back when I lived and died by them), who made Frank Robinson's "WTF Senior Moments," as chronicled by Chrisphonso, seem like tautly-defended dissertations.

---> Phillips was pulled, in a DH game, after five innings and 68 pitches. Maybe Leyva had a premonition, maybe he knew Phillips could only afford to pay the devil for five innings of obfuscation, or maybe Phillips was on a pitch-count. Who knows? All I know is that Leyva might as well have let Joseph Hazelwood manage the rest of the game. At least Hazelwood could have blamed it on alcohol.

---> Leyva ran through seven pitchers for the game. This is a Triple-A game, people. The managers can't afford to mix-and-match. By the ninth, he had burned through five, including a guy who I think is a starter---and that guy wasn't the "emergency, deep-extras game finisher." Some other guy came in for him (see below).

---> Did you know that Jeremy Giambi is a Knight? Must be something new, because the roster online didn't even have a uniform number for him. Is Giambi still hurt? If Little G's well enough to DH, wouldn't you DH him rather than a weak-hitting utility infielder?

---> And if you're going to pinch-hit with Giambi, would you pinch hit him for Greg Norton, your starting third baseman, who is a switch-hitter, has lots of major league experience, and is one of your better hitters?

---> And if you're going to do so, would you double-switch your light-hitting DH over to third base?

---> And would you do so, knowing you've now forfeited your DH spot?

---> And would you do so if you knew that meant you had to bat with your pitcher from now on?

---> And would you let the pitcher hit in the midst of an extra-inning game, or would you double-switch in your remaining bench player, your back-up catcher, knowing you've got one more reliever left?

---> What if, the inning after your pitcher batted for himself, you decided to remove him mid-inning? How would you feel about your choice to bat him now?

"Hey, might as well give Hazelwood a shot. What could go wrong?"

And here comes my favorite, as alluded to before:

---> It's the top of the 12th. The Knights have two outs and a runner at second. The batter pokes a shot back through the box, which at the last moment is snared and knocked around and bobbled on a fine play by Richmond second baseman Jason Bourgeois (cool name). The ball rolls around for a moment, but then Bourgeois rights himself, grabs it, and gets to his feet. Inexplicably, Leyva, coaching at third, waves the runner home. Remember, the ball has not really left the infield.

The guy was obviously following the Little League strategy of "let's do something really impulsive and aggressive, so that the sheer audacity of it will unnerve the defensive players and force them into a mistake they wouldn't make under routine circumstances." Come to think of it, that's kind of what Harold Reynolds, Joe Morgan, and a thousand other guys advocate, too.

But these guys are professional baseball players, and after the initial shock of the rash suicide mission wore off, Bourgeois collected himself and made the play. Well, first, Bourgeois glanced at shortstop Tony Pena, Jr. He asked Pena what we was doing after the game. Pena indicated nothing much. Then, Bourgeois and Pena reenacted the day's events of the Michael Jackson trial. Then, Bourgeois remembered, "Damn, there's that guy running home."

Bourgeois made a decent toss home, but in truth, his throw could have been anywhere in the direction of anywhere from Charlottesville to Newport News and still been adequate for the tag-out.

Even while Leyva decided to execute his own player, Bourgeois and Pena had time to discuss more pressing matters.

I know, I know; Leyva would have never done that with one out, but with two . . . you take a chance. Bullflop. He might as well have pulled out a deuce-deuce and shot the baserunner.

Anyway, that's prettty much how the game went. It was brisk when the starters were in there, but bogged down insufferably when the bullpenners puked all over it. You know the drill.

In the bottom of the 12th, Leyva bizarrely removed his emergency starter/reliever and went with a lefty reliever named Arnie Munoz. (I heard some knowledgable fan shout out, "Hey, Artie Moreno!") During the pitching change, the promotional team in the press box played House of Pain's "Jump" in an effort to keep the remaining fans in the game. Instead, one of my upper-deck comrades just shouted, "Aw, $%&@! you!"

It was that kind of night.

These things always happen on the nights where the weather's worst too.

There's nothing worse than slogging through a brutally-played baseball game.
You speak truth.

I bent down to put my scoresheets in the folder, and the next thing I know I'm the only one remaining in the upper deck. The other eight were gone in a flash.

At a certain point, I was just rooting for whoever was batting to score. Richmond, Charlotte. Didn't matter.

Charlotte's really bad, by the way. 6-19 now.
What team is Charlotte with? They're the Knights? ChiSox?
Yeah, ChiSox. Pretty long relationship by today's standards, too---probably close to a decade now.
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