NLCS Game 7: Random Thoughts

How important is defense? How difficult is it to truly measure defensive proficiency? A great example was the contrast in how shortstop was played by the two men manning the position in this game. Brandon Crawford made all the routine plays, and made a few slightly more-than-routine plays. On the other hand, Pete Kozma was below-average in executing a few plays, and failed to make a few slightly more-than-routine plays — and his timing couldn’t be worse. The third inning went from trouble to absolute disaster because of three specific plays: 1. the broken-bat grounder with the wacky spin hit by Hunter Pence that dribbled into the outfield and cleared the bases; 2. Kozma’s decision to throw home on a grounder with the bases loaded, when Kozma was playing back; and 3. the double play that wasn’t turned on an Angel Pagan grounder, because Kozma’s toss to second base was too high to promote a quick turn by Daniel Descalso. In all fairness, none of those were terrible failures; they certainly were excusable in almost all circumstances, at any point in a 162-game season. But in a Championship series (particularly Game 7), every single play is highly magnified, and the most minor of weaknesses and vulnerabilities are exposed. Kozma is considered to be at least adequate, if not average, defensively. But this game — in fact, this one inning of snafus (none of which resulted in an error being charged, by the way) — displayed how much impact defensive execution can have on winning or losing a ballgame. It may not be quite as noticeable over the long haul, but when you add up all the plays missed (or plays made), and multiply it over 9 defensive positions (yes, the pitcher counts), you can begin to understand why something so seemingly boring and immeasurable as defense (and fundamentals) is a difference-maker for baseball teams. It’s why I want to tear my hair out when I hear people downplay Daniel Murphy‘s or Josh Thole‘s defensive limitations — because defense does matter.

Speaking of that broken-bat “double” by Pence: how the heck was that ruled a double? A really hard official scorer could have considered giving Kozma an error; though, generally speaking, if a fielder doesn’t get a glove on it, it can’t be an error. But how could the outfielder not picking up the ball on the first try not be ruled a one-base error?

Only the spastic Hunter Pence could hit a broken-bat, seeing-eye, bases-clearing double — and one in which his bat hit the ball no less than three times before propelling outward.

When a movie is made about this series, Woody Harrelson will play Hunter Pence.

Through the first six games of the NLCS, St. Louis homers Tim McCarver and Joe Buck were refreshingly non-partisan in their game calling and color commentary. Seriously, I felt they held no bias, to the point where I remarked to myself, “I nearly forgot the Cardinals were playing, these guys are broadcasting so fairly.” In this Game 7, they were mostly unbiased, but here and there you could catch a hint of bitterness and despondency, mixed in with some feigned excitement at Giants triumphs.

On the radio, it was interesting to hear Jon Miller pronounce the names “Carlos Bel-TRAHN” and “AHN-hel Pagan.”

When Kyle Lohse was pulled from the ballgame in that fateful third frame, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny called on Joe Kelly to get his team out of an impossible situation. If it were me in the dugout making the decision, and I needed a strikeout that desperately, I may have chosen Trevor Rosenthal instead. Why? Eleven strikeouts and one hit allowed in 6.2 postseason innings. In a do-or-die situation like that, you have to pull out all the stops. In games like this, where the starter gets pulled so early in an elimination contest, I always think of the time Billy Martin called on his “fireman” (that’s what closers were called back in the day) Sparky Lyle in Game 4 of the 1977 ALCS in the fourth inning with men on first and second, two out, and Yankees holding a one-run lead. Lyle got out of that inning and pitched the final five to finish, and win, the ballgame (and pitched an inning to save Game 5 the next day). I realize today’s game is played differently, but in Game 7 of the Championship Series, all bets are off, all rules go out the window, and you do whatever you have to do to survive.

No names on the back of the Giants jerseys is pretty damn cool. Shame on me for not noticing this fact for the past how many years(?). As we know, the name on the front of the jersey is more important than the one on the back — and if there’s no name on the back at all, well, that fact is self-evident.

Nine days after deeming the season over, the World Series matchup worked out as well as it could have for my selfish purposes — no Yankees and no Cardinals. I guess that means I’ll be watching the Fall Classic. Naturally, I’ll root for the Giants since they play real, actual baseball and they are one of the surrogate parents of the Mets. But in the end, I’ll be happy just to watch baseball — really good baseball — for another week or two, and won’t be crushed if the Tigers win it all.

What about you? Any comments to add in regard to Game 7? Who will you root for, if anyone, in the World Serious?

12-13 Offseason

About the Author

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.

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