As we progress along the road of life and the milestones begin to pass more and more rapidly, certain occurrences seem to tell us that we have perhaps gone as far as we are going to go and that, perhaps, we have now seen enough. One of these hit me in the face last week when I looked at the box score of a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies and observed that the two teams combined to use 24 pitchers in a single major league baseball game. I counted twice. Now, of course, it was a 16 inning game (the Rockies won, 5-4) and, of course, it is September with its expanded rosters and, of course, I ought to be better about adapting to change but still…have I lived too long? I know that my pitch for limits on pitchers on the roster in a previous piece was mostly wishful thinking and that the old days are never going to come back but the need for players on the bench who don’t require Tommy John surgery every year and a half but rather do things like pinch hit, pinch run, and sub for defense is obvious and severe. We have now a veritable plethora of five inning starting pitchers and, more appallingly, one inning relief pitchers. That’s a big waste of money, and there are more effective ways to keep managers’ waistlines from expanding to LaSorda dimensions than having them constantly hiking out to the mound and back.
On July 2, 1963, there was another 16 inning game. The Giants and Braves played a scoreless tie for fifteen and a half innings before Willie Mays ended it with a home run and Juan Marichal had a complete game victory while Warren Spahn, at 40 years of age, took a complete game loss. No bullpen. I don’t think that the physiology of athletes is so much different today that complete games and three inning relief jobs are beyond the imagination. I think that a certain psychology has developed that enables the athletes and their coaches to set endurance limits that lead to self fulfilling prophesies. The first time I heard about pitch count limits was when Billy Swift was returning from injury in 1993 and the medics decided he should be limited to 100 pitches. That has now become the threshold for all starting pitchers. If you tell me I’m tired after 100 pitches, eventually I will tend to agree with you, especially if I still get paid. No doubt, some guys are finished even before that. However, I have to believe that guys like Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, and Gerrit Cole are strong enough and mean enough to go nine. If the bar got set a bit higher, more young guys would get that way too. Do you think Marichal or Spahn were throwing as hard as they could for sixteen innings? No, since they didn’t have to impress scouts or radar guns, they concentrated on getting batters out efficiently. And relievers like Elroy Face and Rollie Fingers, who could come in with the game on the line no matter what the inning (not the pansy Papelbon “closing situation”), could also still be developed if the will to do so was there.
The playoffs are just about set and it should be interesting. I have favored Kansas City from the beginning, but they might fall victim to the same sort of circumstances that I think hurt Washington last season. They more or less cakewalked to the division title with not a lot of stress and strain over the last few weeks, and we have seen that take away the edge sometimes. Plus, with the uncertainty about Johnny Cueto‘s effectiveness and the bullpen not being anything like it was a year ago, they don’t look like favorites now. Toronto seems to have the right magic at the right time. No team in the A.L. West looks that strong, but let’s give Texas and Houston big applause for fooling most of us most of the time.
In the Good League, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Chicago should just have a three way playoff among themselves and screw the rest. However, since we are sticklers for the rules, New York has an outside chance because of their five inning pitchers and the Dodgers have a chance if there are rainouts between all of the Greinke/Kershaw starts. Stay tuned, though, because I’m always wrong.