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Sports Medley Does Kershaw Choke? 12 Oct 15

by Tony Medley

The Evidence: Before Friday’s disastrous loss to the Mets, Clayton Kershaw had walked 42 batters in 323 innings pitched, or an average of 1.6 per nine innings. In Friday’s seventh inning he walked three out of the first five batters he faced. Worse, of the 20 pitches he threw to the three batters he walked, only three were in the strike zone! Although he threw four fastballs, the rest were sliders that were low and one a high curve ball. For a pitcher with Kershaw’s extraordinary control, this is impossible to explain except that he succumbed to pressure, and it’s not the first time he’s done this in the playoffs.

It was obvious that Kershaw was in psychological distress. The fear and discomfort were palpable in his eyes. On the first batter he walked he had an 0-2 count and lost him; on the second the count was 1-2 before he walked him. After the second walk, Mattingly should have seen what was obvious, he needed help, and should have gone to the mound to speak with him. He should have told him, “You are the best pitcher in baseball. These guys can’t hit you. Forget about pitching so tight and get the ball over the plate.”

He is hard to hit and had been hard to hit throughout the game (allowing only 4 hits and 11 strikeouts and one walk before the seventh inning). Kershaw gets a lot of strikeouts on his low slider. And although the ball strike umpire, Alan Porter, was horrible, worse even than the Cubs-Pirates umpire referred to later in this column, calling a high percentage of pitches strikes that were out of the zone, he wasn’t doing it in the 7th inning (Porter only called one bad strike, a pitch almost in the dirt on a 3-0 count to the first batter Kershaw walked).

Instead of talking with him to calm him down, Donnie Baseball panicked, didn’t visit the mound until after the third walk and then just pulled Kershaw immediately without saying a word to him and brought in Pedro Báez to pitch to David Wright, whom Kershaw had struck out twice. Báez immediately allowed a bases-loaded line drive single that drove in the two deciding runs. Kershaw deserved better treatment from his manager.

But that wasn’t Mattingly’s only faux paus. While he did start Corey Seager, .337, at shortstop in place of Jimmy Rollins, .224 (if that’s not a no-brainer, I don’t know what is), he also benched Kiké Hernández, .307, and started strikeout king Joc Pederson, .210, .178 for the last half of the season, in center field. In a one run game, that was crucial.  Maybe Mattingly was as confused as LA Times Dodgers beat writer Zach Helfand, who thinks right handed hitting Hernández hits lefthanded.

 Utley’s Slide: You could live your entire life and not hear more imbecilic comments than those about Chase Utley’s slide that was blamed for breaking Mets’ shortstop Reuben Tejeda’s leg. All the dopes in the world were chanting for a rules change or for a penalty for Utley. Their ignorant, moaning pleas were heard by the dope-in-chief, Joe Torre, who did suspend Chase for two games. Why?

Ever since the National League played its first game in 1876, runners on first base have tried to break up double plays by sliding into the second baseman or shortstop trying to make the pivot at second. Nobody ever penalized any of them. It’s part of the game. But a few years ago Giants’ catcher Buster Posey got injured by a runner when he was blocking the plate, so they passed a rule prohibiting catchers from blocking the plate, which had, up until then, been a time-honored tradition.

Now they are yelling that there should be rules prohibiting crashing into the defensive player in the middle of the double play. It’s absurd. Baseball is a sport. Physical contact and injuries are a part of sport. Nobody slides hard to intentionally injure a player, and when injuries occur nobody likes them, but breaking up double plays has been going on for 139 years. This year alone there have been at least three slides similar to Utley’s with no penalty and no interference called. But Utley’s was on national TV and it resulted in a broken leg (at least as much a result of Tejeda’s bad position as Utley’s slide) and it engendered a lot of comment from a lot of ignorant people. Had the leg not been broken, nothing would have been said. But the moaners and groaners felt they had open license.

Torre said that after reviewing the play he determined it violated rule 5.09 (a) (13). But there have been three slides this year that were similar or worse than Utley’s that didn’t result in injuries and against which Torre took no action. The umpires ruled, correctly, that Tejeda had no chance for a double play because of the throw to him and his position, so Utley’s slide could not be “interference.” So Torre’s action is just a craven capitulation to hypocritical media outrage to a nationally televised event that redounded to the detriment of a New York team.

Football has come close to ruining its game with absurd rules governing defensive backs, holding, and hands to the face. Baseball must hold firm and keep the game the way it’s been played for 139 years. If I were Commissioner I would void the silly rule about catchers blocking the plate and not even consider a rules change on the double play. Baseball players are athletes, not pansies. Let them play.

Umpires should not call pitches: I guess the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta is a good pitcher. The playoff game against Pittsburgh is the first time I’ve seen him. I wasn’t that impressed because Umpire Jeff Nelson was as bad as any ball-strike umpire I had seen (that was before Friday’s Dodgers-Mets game referred to above). I don’t know his called strike percentage vs. in zone percentage but it looked to me as if at least 1/3 of the strikes he called on Arrieta pitches were pitches that were way out of the strike zone, not even close. You can’t beat any pitcher who gets such favorable calls, especially one who is better than average. Baseball must go to automated ball strike calls. It’s far too important to leave to poor human judgment.