They say you can learn something new at every baseball game, and that certainly held true tonight. For example, before this evening’s Cubs/Pirates clash, did you know that if TV can’t show an angle that definitely shows Addison Russell was out at third base in the ninth inning, the MLB replay office can just make shit up and call him out anyway?
And it’s appropriate that this happened in Pittsburgh. Because the only possible explanation for ruling Russell out after looking at every angle of his slide was that the replay official was Doc Ellis.
What You Need to Know:
Let’s start by quoting my favorite Dumb and Dumber outtake…
JIM CARREY: Wanna hear the most annoying sound in the world? (immediately starts doing play by play of Jon Lester pitching to Francisco Cervelli)
Tonight’s game was just obnoxious from beginning to end. Lester’s command issues returned and he tried to gut it out through five innings and 101 pitches. Thanks to plate umpire Jerry Meals squeezing Lester on a few low strikes, he pitched most of the night with the expression of a man hearing the phrase “Jon, I’d like to introduce you to Bill James.” And he kept sweating out of the bill of his cap at a rate that could only be described as “Nixonian.”
Worse, until an eighth-inning solo homer by Gregory Polanco, every run the Pirates scored occurred in innings where they had two outs and nobody on. It was a classic “Jon Lester is slightly off” game where he kept trying to hit the corners and just couldn’t make it work.
Next Level: It’s a good thing baseball is the best. Because there are nights like tonight where it’s the absolute worst thing in the world and should be tied up in a garbage bag, set on fire, and left to drift down the Monongahela never to be heard from again.
In the third inning after Lester had gotten two quick outs, he proceeded to give up a line shot single and double to Polanco and David Freese for the Pirates’ first run. Freese, incidentally, is proof that even inspirational triumphs of the human spirit can be annoying as shit.
Then Francisco Cervelli yanked a pitch almost straight down the left field line that barely tucked itself inside the left field foul pole for a two run homer to put the Pirates ahead 3-0. Southwest Airlines asked “How far did it fly?”
152 unhappy feet. It was the first home run in baseball history where if it hadn’t left the park, it was in danger of being caught by Willson Contreras.
PNC Park is a jewel. But it never a good thing when you hear the phrase “That part of your ballpark reminds me of new Yankee Stadium.” If the Pirates think that left field short porch is acceptable, it should be about three weeks before they tear down the Roberto Clemente Bridge and make fans walk across the river on a 30-foot bronzed head of George Steinbrenner.
Meanwhile, after Javy Báez tied the game with a three-run homer in the fourth (more on that anon), Contreras followed by launching a cruise missile 400 feet to left center. But because that’s where PNC compensates for its short porch, the best he could get was a double that banged off the bullpen door and he was left stranded.
And then after Freese put Pittsburgh back on top 4-3 with a two out double in the fifth, Báez found himself on third as the game tying run with one out. Ian Happ and Contreras proceeded to blister two scorching line drives that went for naught as they ended up in the gloves of Josh Harrison and Jamison Taillon.
In retrospect, Joe Maddon should have challenged either play. The way the New York office was going tonight, they’d have ruled that Harrison didn’t make a football move during the process of the catch and awarded the Cubs seven runs.
Top Play (WPA): With the Cubs trailing by three, Ben Zobrist opened the fourth inning with a double under Polanco’s glove and Jason Heyward followed with a well placed soft liner just beyond Harrison’s range. The Cubs had runners at the corners with Báez at the plate.
Taillon immediately got the jump on him, getting Javy to swing at a vicious sweeping slider to run the count to 0-2. But he followed that up with another breaking ball, this one hanging in the middle of the plate. And Javy unloaded, sending a soaring drive all the way to the base of the spiral ramp in left field as if to tell Cervelli, “That’s not a homer, mate. This is a homer.” (+.188)
Báez entered the game with 68 home runs. Which means my new favorite MLB.TV search is “Clint Hurdle watches Javy get 69.”
And every time Javy homers against Pittsburgh, Jim Deshaies should immediately put on an Ali G skull cap and fist bump Len Kasper as he drops a “Respect.”
Dumbest WPA Play of the Year: The Cubs entered the ninth trailing 5-3 and faced a mountainous task ahead of them in trying to solve Pittsburgh closer Felipe Vázquez. But David Bote gave them a shot with a leadoff single into left past Freese’s glove. And then Russell drove an ill-fated two strike pitch to the wall in right center for an extra base hit. Things appeared to be off to a good start!
Unfortunately, Russell hesitated slightly rounding second base while looking over his shoulder as if trying to remember if this was a play where Joe Maddon had shifted Brian Butterfield over the right field bleachers.
It was not.
And still Russell managed to make it to third base with a headfirst slide. The Pirates challenged, attempting to find a moment where Russell’s momentum took him off the base while Freese kept the tag on him. NBCSN did its best attempting to find said angle and simply could not. Nonetheless, he was ruled out.
Perhaps MLB had hired Abraham Zapruder specifically for games played in Pittsburgh. After all, PNC Park’s hitters backdrop is a grassy knoll.
So the entry for this play reads “Addison Russell doubled to right. David Bote scored.” And the WPA is -.060.
It was that kind of night.
Up Next: The Cubs attempt to play the exact opposite of that kind of night in the series finale as Cole Hamels makes his Chicago National League Ballclub debut against Nick Kingham. Given how scorching hot the Pirates are playing, the best break of all might be that this is only a two-game series.
Lead photo courtesy @Cubs