How the Mets let a briefly vulnerable Johnny Cueto slip away in the top of the fourth.
The consensus coming into Game Two was that the pitching matchup favored the Mets. After all, the last time we saw Johnny Cueto, the Blue Jays torched him for eight runs. Through all the shimmies and quick pitches, Cueto had looked very shaky since coming over to Kansas City at the trade deadline. On the other hand, Jacob deGrom fanned 13 Dodgers in his first-ever playoff start and followed that with two more very good outings despite not having his best stuff.
In Game Two of the 1964 World Series, Bob Gibson lost to the Yankees. He pitched eight innings, and gave up four runs on eight hits and three walks. In the bottom of the eighth, with St. Louis trailing 4-1 and a runner on first base, Cardinals manager Johnny Keane lifted Gibson for a pinch-hitter (Bob Skinner). It was, inarguably, the right choice, and Skinner doubled to set up a run, but still, Gibson fumed. Gibson was pitching on three days’ rest, after a four-inning relief stint that came on one day’s rest in the season finale, but still, he fumed. Cardinals relievers gave up four runs in the top of the ninth, pushing the game far out of reach. Gibson was furious.
How the Royals turned a moment of failure into another win. Some might call it resilience, some might call it magic.
One of the most frustrating things about trying to win at baseball—particularly for a manager—is there’s not that much you can do besides be good. You want to walk around your block figuring out how to crack this darned problem, to have your The Theory Of Everything moment and run into the classroom scribbling frantically, like as if you could discover that if you just do this then there’s no way you can lose. But there’s no this. There are very few counterintuitive strategies in baseball. There’s no “that’s not an ugly old lady, it’s actually a beautiful young woman!” perspective you can stare for. You’re stuck with the official story: Baseball is almost entirely throw a pitch exactly where you’re trying to, even though that’s hard; or hit it as far as you can, even though that’s hard. The guy who does the hard thing wins. There’s no easy option.
As we’re slowly learning, the single most important tactical step a manager can take to win a playoff game is to minimize his starting pitcher’s exposure to the opposing lineup for a third time—if not eliminate that exposure entirely. I say we’re slowly learning, of course, though it’s really a thing many saber-savvy fans and analysts learned five or 10 years ago. It was a major theme of The Book. The slowness of teams’ embrace of this concept has made it maybe the last issue on which outsiders have a substantial, obvious advantage over the median big-league manager.
When we found out before the game that Edinson Volquez’s father had just died, I swore that there would be no arm-chair psychology in this recap; I wouldn’t read his face and I wouldn’t attribute any extraheroic strength to his effort and I wouldn’t excuse any bloop hits or failures on his part to back up third base. Baseball is absurdly small and our parents are, for most of us, extraordinarily large, and to put the two on the same map is some kind of missing the point entirely. Baseball is awful because we would even expect Edinson Volquez to pitch on a day like that day, and it’s salvation because what would any of us want to do more for our fathers than pitch Game One of the World Series?
The Mets made their first World Series in fifteen years by beating the Dodgers in a thrilling five-game division series, and then sweeping the Cubs in a not particularly dramatic four-game Championship Series. The young starting pitching was excellent and Daniel Murphy did a fine imitation of playoff Carlos Beltran (no, not THAT playoff Carlos Beltran, Mets fans).
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