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Bullpen Games Are Far From A Reflection Of Old-Time Baseball

October 16,2018 18:21

In the seminal hockey film, Slap Shot, the fictitious minor league Hershey team literally punches its way to the championship game when their coach Reggie Dunlop, played by Paul Newman, has a moment of epiphany. “I'm not going out this way. Let's play ...



Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin had a good outing during Game 3 of the National League Championship Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers Monday at Dodger Stadium, but still didn't make it through the sixth inning. (AP Photo/Jae Hong)

In the seminal hockey film, Slap Shot, the fictitious minor league Hershey team literally punches its way to the championship game when their coach Reggie Dunlop, played by Paul Newman, has a moment of epiphany.
“I’m not going out this way. Let’s play old-time hockey,” Dunlop told the boys in the room before the big game, urging his team to play like “Toe Blake, Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore.”
“Those guys were the greats,” Dunlop said, clicking off some names of hockey's early classic players.
And so on Monday night in the press box at Dodger Stadium, the talk got around to “old time baseball” when starting pitchers Jhoulys Chacin and Walker Buehler hooked up into the sixth inning with the Milwaukee Brewers leading the Los Angeles Dodgers, 1-0, and Game 3 of the National League Championship Series in the balance.
“Bob Gibson, Mickey Lolich,” two great pitchers from the 1968 World Series, were prominent names mentioned. Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals won Games 1 and 4. Lolich of the Detroit Tigers won Games 2 and 5, and then spit on Gibson head-to-head to win Game 7 and the series.
That could never happen the way baseball is played and managed these days, although it was only two years ago when Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets and Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants started the NL Wild Card Game at Citi Field.
The game went into the ninth in a scoreless tie. Syndergaard came out after seven, allowing only two hits and striking out 10. Bumgarner pitched a complete-game and allowed four hits as the Giants won 3-0. It was his second complete-game, four-hit shutout in an NL Wild Card Game. Giants manager Bruce Bochy wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
That was then, and this is now.
In the end, Reggie’s hockey team fought its way to win the title when the game ended in a vicious brawl.
In the era of “bullpening” when the starter is now sometimes referred to as the “opener,” Chacin was pulled with one out and one on in the sixth inning by Brewers manager Craig Counsell, despite allowing just three hits and no runs on 85 pitches.
It took four Milwaukee relievers to finish a 4-0 win that wasn’t as easy as the score makes it sound. The Dodgers had two chances with the bases loaded and one out in the ninth to tie it against reliever Jeremy Jeffress. Catcher Yasmany Grandal and pinch-hitter Brian Dozier struck out.
Buehler pitched through the seventh, having allowed a double to Erik Kratz and a two-run homer to Orlando Arcia in his final inning.
He threw 100 pitches and perhaps Dodgers manager Dave Roberts gave him a little too much rope.
“I thought he was still throwing the baseball well,” Roberts said.
In Game 7 of the 1968 World Series at Busch Stadium II, Lolich and Gibson pitched complete games as the Tigers won, 4-1.
Those were the days.
There have been no complete games thus far in the 2018 playoffs and only 42 during the regular season, although the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw came close in Game 2 of their NL Division Series over the Atlanta Braves. He worked eight innings in a victory and actually came out to warm up before the top of the ninth when Roberts replaced him with closer Kenley Jansen.
At the postgame media conference, Kershaw asked his young daughter Cali whether he should have finished the game.
“No,” she said, seated with her brother firmly on dad’s lap.
From the lips of babes. Like Chacin on Monday, Kershaw had tossed only 85 pitches.
The Brewers have already gone with a bullpen game in this series and look like their headed into another one in Game 4 Tuesday night.
After Game 3, Counsell divulged that Gio Gonzalez would start against the Dodgers’ Rich Hill, a battle of left-handers in what could be a pivotal game in the series.
Gonzalez worked only the first two innings in Game 1 at Milwaukee, a game the Brewers held on to win 6-5 behind seven pitchers.
Counsell wouldn’t advise if he had similar plans for the Gonzalez in Game 4.
“You’re not going to get an answer on that,” he said with a laugh.
Figure that the plans are similar. The Brewers and the Oakland A’s are the only teams among Major League Baseball’s 10 postseason qualifiers this year to use that strategy, which may be good for a short series, but not over the course of 162 games.
“I don’t think it’s sustainable throughout the season,” Hill said. “I’m not 100% sure that it’s a product of not having enough starting pitching, because every team has to have a starter every day to go through a season, right?”
If that team wants to win.
Hill was a victim of the strategy last year in Game 2 of the World Series when he was pulled despite pitching well through four innings. The Dodgers used eight relievers that night ultimately losing the game in 11 innings, and the series in seven games to the Houston Astros.
During the second half of this season, Tampa Bay and Minnesota used the strategy because of a starting shortage. Both teams were well out of it, though. The A’s picked it up in September because their starting staff was racked by injuries.
When manager Bob Melvin, general manager Billy Beane, and crew made it to the American League Wild Card Game against the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium, they decided that a bullpen game was their best option to win. Not one starter was trustworthy enough to be given the ball.
It blew up quickly when Liam Hendricks was struck for a two-run homer by Aaron Judge in the first inning and six relievers walked the plank to a 7-2 loss.
The Brewers have gotten decent starts from Wade Miley and Chacin the last two games, but that’s not enough for them to abandon the overall plan. Miley will be back in Game 5 against Kershaw, Counsell said, and we’ll see what kind of leash Gonzalez has Tuesday.
These decisions are all made by committee, Counsell admitted, which seems to be the norm these days in big-league baseball. The manager has little autonomy.
“Yeah, it’s a conversation with Derek Johnson, our pitching coach, with David [Stearns] our general manager,” Counsell said. “We lay out some scenarios, going into today’s game whether we get a good start and what shape we’re in. Gio was always going to be the guy.”
Tigers manager Mayo Smith, pitching Lolich on short such rest in 1968, was a decision pulled out of his own hat. One can’t imagine him having much of a discussion about it with general manager Jim Campbell, the guy who put together the team, aside from telling him that's what he planned to do.
That’s old-time baseball. Like old-time hockey, it’s a reflection of a now seemingly ancient past.
 

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