Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I Hate Stupid Baseball

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever the Phillies should have lost 2-1 to the Marlins last night. Absolutely none. Yes, Josh Johnson was his usual awesome self, but the Phillies didn't lose solely because Johnson worked around trouble and pitched his usual great game. No, the Phillies really lost last night and saw their lead over Florida shrink to 2 games — instead of extending it to a 4-game lead — because they played completely stupid baseball.

There is nothing in sports I hate more than stupidity, especially in baseball — the thinking man's game. Yet that's exactly what the Phillies treated us all to last night. The amount of stupid baseball was at a staggering high.

In a game featuring two of the best pitchers on the planet, it was vital for both teams to "maximize their opportunities" against Josh Johnson for the Phillies and against Roy Halladay for the Marlins, as Chris Wheeler not so subtly reminded us about 8 million times last night. (Seriously Wheels, we heard you the first 2 million times. No need to repeat yourself. Again.) The Phillies seemed to do the complete opposite of that.

It began in the 2nd inning, when it looked like the Phillies were going to give Halladay more than enough runs to get a win. Looked like. Ryan Howard did that thing where he remembers he's big and strong and awesome, leading off the inning with a solo home run to the opposite field. That seemed to ignite the Phils, who went down weakly in order on just 10 pitches in the first, and get to Johnson a bit. Raul followed up with a double, and then after Johnson got ahead of Ben Francisco with two strikes, he hit him with a pitch. Johnson looked a bit rattled, and that showed as Pete Orr worked an incredibly patient 7-pitch walk, not even swinging at a pitch until the count was full, fouling the sixth pitch of the at-bat off before walking to load the bases.

So there were the Phils with the bases loaded and nobody out, already with one across in the inning and looking to add more. Of course, it wasn't going to be easy. The next two batters were the 8 and 9 hitters, the little-used Dane Sardinha and pitcher Roy Halladay. Even with the bases loaded and no outs, Johnson had to feel pretty confident he could get two strikeouts against two weak batters. He is, after all, a strikeout pitcher. And he did exactly that, striking out Sardinha and Halladay, then getting Jimmy Rollins to ground to end the inning with no damage done beyond Howard's solo shot.

Now, I can't be entirely angry at Sardinha and especially Halladay for striking out in a spot that you really need anything but a strikeout. Frankly, Halladay's was for the best, because had he made contact, there was a pretty good chance he would have grounded into an inning-ending double play without even giving Rollins his two-out chance with the sacks full. It is frustrating that Sardinha couldn't get his bat on the ball and even more annoying that he went down while trying to check his swing on a ball that clearly wasn't a strike. It was a pretty piss-poor at-bat. But still, you don't exactly expect Dane Sardinha to be a hero with a stick. The guy did make a nice throw on a tough pitch to handle to throw out Emilio Bonifacio in the first on a great snag and tag by Pete Orr at second. So I'm not going to kill Sardinha for that at-bat completely.

But I will question why he was even in the lineup at all. I understand that with Carlos Ruiz out, Brian Schneider has played more than anyone expected him to thus far in the season. So it's understandable to look to give the guy some games off. But I don't understand at all why Manuel would sit him last night. Runs were at a premium last night. Against Josh Johnson, you want your best offensive lineup out there, and it's hard to argue that Sardinha is a better hitter than Brian Schneider. Then you add the fact that Schneider is a left-handed hitter and Sardinha is right-handed and it gets even more baffling going against the right-handed Josh Johnson. And then you look at the Schneider's career numbers against Johnson and it's even more crazy. Schneider is 4-for-15 against Johnson in his career, a .267 average. Nothing special, no, but that's a better lifetime average against Florida's ace than Ibanez and Polanco, and the fact that he's faced him 15 times gives me a whole lot more confidence that he could be successful against Johnson than a guy who has never faced him and has barely played in the majors.

I don't know, maybe it's just me. But I'd much rather have the veteran, left-handed hitting Schneider who has faced Johnson several times in his career in the game over a soft-hitting right-handed guy who has spent most of the season splitting time in the minors behind the plate. I just really don't understand why Charlie chose last night to rest Schneider. Seemed like ill timing. Some might call it a stupid baseball move. Like me.

That's not saying Schneider would have come through there. For all we know, he could have done the exact same thing as Sardinha and gone down on strikes. But I sure would have liked to find out.

Anyway, that awful job by the bottom of the lineup certainly wasn't smart baseball, but it was hardly as bad as the stupidity that followed.

Again, as Wheeler said time after time after time last night, the Phillies needed to do everything they could to maximize their opportunities against Johnson. A nice way to do that is to take the extra base and steal some bags with your speed guys. Yet the Phillies refused to do it. In the third, Shane Victorino led off with a single. It was the perfect time to steal. Have Shane swipe second, let Polanco do what he's so good at doing by hitting the ball to the right side to move him over and have yourself a runner on third with one or no outs, or maybe even have Polanco drive him in with a hit. But Shane never went, Polly flew out, Howard struck out and then Raul came up. Again, both Tom McCarthy and Wheels were saying now would be a great time for Shane to steal. I agreed. Shane and Sam Perlozzo did not. Raul singled, but since Shane was on first, he didn't score. He did go first-to-third, but had he been stealing or had already stolen second, he would have scored easily and put the Phils up 2-0. Instead, it was first and third with two outs.

OK, the Phillies weren't aggressive and it may have cost them a run, but at least they still had a shot to get a run across. And those odds increased when Johnson walked Ben Francisco on six pitches to load the bases. Up came Pete Orr, who came into the game batting .400 against Johnson in his career and who had an absolutely fantastic, patient at-bat just the inning before, working a walk to load the bases. I was actually kind of relieved that Orr was up in that situation given his first time up. A walk meant a much-needed insurance run.

So what does Pete Orr do with the bases loaded and two outs? The complete fucking opposite of what he did his first at-bat. Orr stupidly swung at the very first fucking pitch Josh Johnson threw to him, harmlessly grounding out to end the inning. I was absolutely beside myself. That at-bat is absolutely indefensible and just plain stupid baseball. There is absolutely nothing I hate more in all of sports, seriously, than a guy swinging at the first pitch after the pitcher just walked the bases loaded. Nothing. I fucking despise it. Unless you hit a grand slam, in my eyes, it's just fucking horribly stupid baseball. And Orr didn't even hit it hard. He hit a weak grounder to end it. And I wanted him dead. Seriously dead. I can't wait for him to be back in the minors whenever this roster gets healthy.

Let me paint this picture for you to get across how incredibly dumb Pete Orr is. In the second inning with runners on first and second and nobody out, and with the 8 and 9 hole hitters behind him, Orr didn't even swing until the count was 3-2. That's fine, he worked a very good at-bat and walked to load the bases. But, he also put the inning in the hands of two awful hitters against an elite pitcher. An aggressive guy would have realized that, looked for a pitch to hit and tried to capitalize on an RBI opportunity, knowing the guys behind him aren't likely to get the job done. Still, I'm OK with it because Johnson was wild at the time and there were no outs. He could have just as easily walked Sardinha or even Halladay to force in a run.

But with the bases loaded and two outs, Orr goes after the first pitch right after Johnson walked the guy in front of him to load the bases in a spot where a walk is an RBI. Basically, Pete Orr should have had the complete opposite approach in his first two at-bats. Had he swung at the first pitch of his first at-bat, a four-seam fastball for a strike, he may have gotten a hit and been able to drive in the run that never came home. Maybe not, but no one would have faulted him for an out there or for being aggressive and trying to make something happen early in the game. Had he worked Johnson his second at-bat the way he did the first time up and walked again, Victorino scores and the Phils go up 2-0. Maybe he doesn't walk, but you had to take at least one strike there given the circumstances. It was just stupid, stupid baseball by Orr. Embarrassingly so. And if you try and defend Orr for that second at-bat, you can go get fucked. Seriously. I don't want to hear it.

The stupidity was so rampant for the Phils that it started to spread to damn near everyone. Not even the great Roy Halladay was immune. Because right after Orr had the single worst at-bat of the season for the Phils, Halladay made a bone-headed play of his own. He did get Omar Infante to ground out to start the inning. But then he did something he's never, ever done in his career, literally. He walked the opposing pitcher, giving Josh Johnson a free pass on six pitches. It was the first time in his entire career that he's walked the opposing pitcher. Yeah, he's played all of his career except last season and the games played so far this year in the American League, but still. That's damn impressive to have never walked the opposing pitcher in this era of inter-league play. They say there's a first time for everything, and that first time couldn't have come at a more inopportune moment.

Roy Halladay, who barely walks anyone ever, walked the opposing pitcher. That cannot happen. Ever. You don't walk the pitcher. Even a big guy like Josh Johnson who is not an altogether awful hitter. Throw it down the middle three straight times if you have to. But don't walk him. Ever. Halladay did, and of course Johnson would eventually score to tie the game.

In between Johnson's walk and him crossing home plate, Chris Coghlan got a double thanks to another stupid play by the Phils. Following the walk, Coghlan hit a liner to right center. Victorino was shaded the other way, and Francisco had a long run himself. Coghlan saw this and never stopped at first. Francisco took too long to get to the ball, then neither Orr or Rollins were covering second as Coghlan was wisely trying to leg out a double, and Francisco then threw it to no-man's land between Orr and Rollins. So the Phils just gave Coghlan second base thanks to lazy, stupid baseball. Awesome.

Bonifacio brought Johnson home with a sac fly, but then Roy did another thing he never does, walking his second batter of the inning by giving a free pass to Hanley Ramirez. He did get Gaby Sanchez to end the inning, but Halladay and the Phils literally gave Florida a run by walking the pitcher, and they almost surrendered more by being lackadaisical in the field. Seriously, my head wanted to explode.

The game did settle down after that, with Johnson and Halladay steadying themselves as both started to deal. But the Phillies weren't done doing stupid things just yet.

In the 7th, after being silenced for a few innings, Jimmy Rollins led off with a single. Again, it would have been a great time to either steal or have Victorino bunt him over to get the go-ahead run in scoring position. Instead, Victorino this time played the role of moron after it looked like he was going to be smart. Shane took three straight balls to go up 3-0. He then took a called strike, 3-1. In this situation, he either has to take again to let Rollins steal or try and pull the ball to let Rollins go first-to-third. Or of course take a bad pitch and walk. So what does Shane do? He flies out to left field, pretty much the only thing you can't do besides ground into a double play with a 3-1 count. Terrible. And terribly stupid. Again.

With Polanco up, it was again the perfect time to send Rollins. Get him into scoring position to give Polanco and/or Howard the chance to drive him in. Add to that that Polanco rarely strikes out and is more than willing to hit with two strikes, and it was a no-brainer. Let Polly take a pitch or two, send Rollins and get him into scoring position. But Jimmy never went. And Polanco nearly grounded into a double play, but did manage to beat it out as Rollins was out at second.

I really miss Davey Lopes. So do the Phillies. Because we all know Lopes would have picked up on Johnson's move in that game and sent Rollins there or Victorino earlier, giving the Phils a better chance of winning the game. Sadly, Lopes is back in Los Angeles these days, and Sam Perlozzo is no Davey Lopes.

Then to top the inning off, Ryan Howard did his best NLCS impression of himself, striking out looking to end the inning on a fastball that was literally right down the middle of the plate. Way to go, Ryan. Seriously, get the fucking bat off your shoulder. Ryan Howard is awesome and many times clutch and an RBI machine and has improved his defense a million-fold, but I have to be perfectly honest with you, I liked Ryan Howard better when he was fat and bad at defense and hitting 50 home runs and winning Rookie of the Year and MVP and winning games left and right for the Phils better. That guy used to at least go down swinging. (Seriously, I love Howard. Consider this a reverse-jinx.)

Of course, the ending of all stupid endings occurred in the 8th. Leading off the inning, Omar Infante reached on a double error by Jimmy Rollins, three-time Gold Glove winner who rarely makes errors. Technically, it was only one error, a throwing error. But Rollins first bobbled the ball, which made him rush his throw, which drew Howard off the bag. And the way last night was going, you just knew that error was going to turn into an unearned run, and it did thanks to more bad baseball. Halladay, who never throws wild pitches, threw a wild pitch to allow Infante to get to second, a wild pitch that actually should have been caught. Yes, Halladay missed his spot badly and Sardinha had to go a long way to get it, but it hit off a ton of his glove. He should have stopped it. He didn't. It was a tough play. I get it. But it's the type of play you have to make as a catcher. There is no reason Dane Sardinha should be on an MLB roster. None. I miss Carlos Ruiz as much as Roy does.

After Osvaldo Martinez grounded out to second to move Infante to third with just one out, Chris Coghlan, the offensive star of the game, brought him home with a single. It turned out to be the game-winning run. And while no more runs would score the rest of the game, the Phillies made one more stupid play before the night was through, and it came from Placido Polanco of all people.

Polanco casually fielded a Hanley Ramirez grounder, took his time and sort of double-clutched instead of just throwing the ball, and Hanley beat it out for an infield hit. It was just another instance of stupid, lazy baseball. And it was plays like that, stupid baseball plays, that cost the Phils last night.

You know things are going bad when Roy Halladay and Placido Polanco of all people make stupid plays. Not even Roy's impressive line — 8 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 9 K — could overcome the stupid baseball the Phillies played last night.

And there's nothing I hate more than stupid baseball.

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