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The Nats Come Up Big
[Posted early Wed. a.m.]
Baseball Quiz: Gerrit Cole of the Astros finished the season with 326 strikeouts. Name the other modern-day hurlers to fan more than 325 in a season. Answer below.
--In a truly exciting, entertaining contest, the Washington Nationals scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to take a 4-3 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers in their playoff game, and then reliever Daniel Hudson held the Brewers at bay in the ninth for the win that exorcised so many demons for both the Nats and their fans.
Washington has a tortured postseason history, not having advanced past the division series, falling in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017, including the wild-card game in three of them.
In all three of those contests, the Nats had the lead at one point, only to blow it.
Thomas Boswell / Washington Post
“All season the Washington Nationals have fought from behind. All season the Nats have overcome decisions that were dubious, or downright disastrous, on who should be called on to pitch. All season, they have looked for their next unlikely hero or an old hero – any ol’ hero will do – to turn what looked like a ruined season in May into the beginning of a magical October ride.
“On Tuesday night in Nationals Park, the entire Nats season, all 162 games of it, was recapitulated in just nine thrilling, emotionally exhausting innings as Washington rallied from a two-run deficit with three runs in the eighth inning to beat Milwaukee, 4-3, in a National League wild-card game that will assuage the hurt hereabout from three previous Game 5s in division series in this park.
“To give extra power and symbolism to their inspiring win, the Nats beat the man who epitomizes the Brewers – Josh Hader, the left-handed reliever who struck out a preposterous 138 men in 75 2/3 innings....
“The Nats won with grit, with a hit batsman, with a bloop hit, with a walk and with a rocket of a two-run base hit by Juan Soto, who had been in a 5-for-47 slump that would numb the competitive soul of most 20-year-olds.
“Finally, on that Soto hit, the Nats won with a bad hop – which deflected off the glove of Milwaukee right fielder Trent Grisham for an error that brought home the winning run. In other words, they won as they have all season – just as rationality and normal baseball expectations said they would not.”
The Nats started the season 19-31, manager Dave Martinez was going to be fired, and then went a sterling 74-38 the rest of the way; this despite having the worst bullpen in baseball.
The Nats also won last night despite another highly-mediocre start from Max Scherzer, 3 earned, two homers, in five innings, Scherzer having entered the game with a 4.81 ERA since the All-Star break, including six weeks on the IL with back and shoulder issues.
But three scintillating innings in relief from Stephen Strasburg helped mightily and kept Washington in touch until the magic in the eighth.
As for Trent Grisham, the rookie with 51 games of major league experience was crestfallen after.
“It’s going to sting. It’s going to sting for a long time....It’s going to hurt. And I expect it to hurt when I debrief and go into the offseason.”
The speed of the play caught up to him...the lack of experience costly.
--Cubs president Theo Epstein said on Monday that former catcher David Ross is among a “broad list” of candidates to replace Joe Maddon. ESPN reports Houston bench coach Joe Espada, Cubs bench coach Mark Loretta and former big leaguer and current Cubs catching coordinator Mark Johnson are other candidates.
But there are further obvious candidates, chief among them former Cubs catcher Joe Girardi. Plus the Chicago Tribune added the names of Carlos Beltran, Raul Ibanez and Kevin Youkilis.
--The Angels fired Brad Ausmus Monday after just one season, and let’s face it, this move was called for. The Angels were 54-49 on July 24 and still very much in the wildcard hunt, and went 18-41 after to finish 72-90 (the team’s worst season in 20 years). That’s beyond pathetic, and it’s just another season wasted with Mike Trout, one of the ten best to ever play the game (probably top five), on the roster.
Immediate speculation has the Angels going after Maddon. After all, Maddon started his career with the Angels in 1975, working as a player, coach, scout and minor-league manager for 31 years, and still has a home in Long Beach, Calif.
But Girardi, Showalter...all the names below will be in the running, too. What we do know, though, is that Angels owner Arte Moreno isn’t afraid to spend money (say, as opposed to the Mets). Maddon, who earned $28 million over the past five years, would no doubt want to remain the highest-paid manager in the game.
--After I posted last time, the Pirates fired manager Clint Hurdle after nine seasons, three of which he made the playoffs (2013-2015), but with no postseason success. He was 735-720-1 overall.
What did him in, aside from lots of dissension in the clubhouse, was a 69-92 record, the worst since 2010.
--So what will the Mets do? Mickey Callaway has a year left on his contract after going 77-85 and 86-76 his first two. The thing is while the offense came through this year, which wasn’t the case last season, the core four starting pitchers, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz, didn’t, save for deGrom. Noah, Wheeler and Matz were healthy all season and all three were worse than last year (at least by ERA).
In fact, the core four missed just three starts this year, combined, which is unheard of in the sport these days, and only missed 12 combined last season. So the Mets have wasted their prime seasons.
Of course every Mets fan knows the reason why we didn’t make the playoffs...two words. Edwin Diaz.
The Mets like playing for Mickey, though his in-game managing is atrocious. He might remain a final year. But management has to get him help in the bullpen, and the options are limited, seeing as the team is stuck with Diaz (likely), and Jeurys Familia (definitely).
And Zack Wheeler is a free agent so what do you do with him? Seth Lugo, who ended up being a huge piece in the pen this season, should be a starter.
Well, that’s my random musing as we await the decision on Mickey. The offense is obviously more than solid with a terrific young core. But the Mets could easily tab Joe Girardi or Buck Showalter, for example, to guide them to 90+ next season and the playoffs.
However, no way Girardi would mesh with a meddlesome front office.
--Washington’s Anthony Rendon, a free agent-to-be, received a seven-year, $210 million to $215 million offer from the Nationals, which is more than fair, but nonetheless, the 29-year-old will no doubt test the market and look for a 10-year, $300 million offer from some other team. Bryce Harper received $330 million over 13 years from the Phillies.
Rendon picked a great time to have a career year, batting .319 with 34 home runs and an MLB-leading 126 RBIs. A big NLDS wouldn’t hurt his cause either.
--Total attendance across 2,429 major league games during the regular season dropped by about 1 million fans this season to 68.5 million, 14 percent lower than a high of 79.5 million tickets sold in 2007. The drop for 2019 followed a 2018 season in which total attendance dipped below 70 million for the first time since 2003.
This isn’t the crisis it would seem to be because the sport has all kinds of other revenue, especially often-mega-size television contracts, that didn’t exist in prior decades.
Also, if you are a younger fan and wonder what attendance was like in the supposed heyday for the sport, the 1960s, for example, scroll through some team figures via BaseballReference.com and you’ll see some rather startlingly low seasonal numbers.
BUT...the game must attract young fans, and the length of games continues to hurt. Even I was getting ticked off watching some of my Mets games...far more irritated at the length than I’ve ever been before. And, indeed, the average time of a nine-inning game reached a record length this season...3 hours, 5 minutes, 35 seconds.
MLB’s average was 2:46 in 2005...which is a huge difference, especially psychologically as you’re following a contest.
--By now we all know the home run stats and records set, but as I said, to me when you just have one player hit 50 (Pete Alonso’s 53), it’s not cartoonish.
That said, entering this season, there were only six teams that hit 250 home runs in a single season in MLB history, and there had never been multiple teams with 250 homers in a single season. This year, seven teams reached the 250 mark.
Minnesota (307) and the Yankees (306) were tops and now they square off in the ALDS.
--Johnny Mac noted only 22 pitchers threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title in the American League, the N.L. with 34. Toronto, Milwaukee and the L.A. Angels didn’t have a single hurler qualify.
Ergo, seeing as you need 162 innings to qualify for the ERA crown, what do you do given the sport’s trends? I say lower it this offseason to 154. Simple solution, for now. But we’re definitely headed to some kind of rethinking, I imagine.
--Bob S. alerted me to Houston furniture salesman Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale, owner of Gallery Furniture in Houston, who bet $3.5 million on the Astros to win the World Series at the DraftKings sportsbook at Scarlet Pearl casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. At +220 odds, the wager would pay a net $7.7 million if the Astros take it.
He also recently placed a $200,000 World Series bet on Houston +250 in Las Vegas. The dude is hinting at making even more bets, perhaps with sportsbooks in New Jersey.
--It’s a weekend devoid of big games, save for 7 Auburn at 10 Florida.
11 Texas at West Virginia could be interesting, as the Longhorns can’t help but look ahead to the following week’s showdown against Oklahoma.
I don’t expect 4 Ohio State to have any trouble with 25 Michigan State.
But 5 LSU better be on guard against Utah State.
--FCS (Div. IAA) Coaches Poll
1. North Dakota State...I’m shocked!
2. James Madison
3. South Dakota State
4. Kennesaw State
5. Weber State
6. Illinois State
7. Montana State
T-10. Central Arkansas
--On a broader topic, Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill, SB 206 (“Fair Pay to Play” act), that sets in motion the ability of college athletes to receive compensation for the use of their image and to receive endorsement deals. It’s limited to athletes in California colleges and doesn’t begin until 2023, but you can imagine all the stories we’re going to hear in the coming years in terms of recruiting. At first blush, of course it’s huge for the likes of USC, UCLA, Cal, Stanford, San Diego State and the like.
But the NCAA is appealing, while other states may be under pressure to go the way of California.
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“Last spring, then-USC athletic director Lynn Swann was spotted in Virginia at a memorabilia show signing his autograph for at least $200 per scribble. At the same time, in the sweaty trenches at its practice field in downtown Los Angeles, the USC football team was holding spring workouts with players for whom a sold signature would have resulted in immediate suspension.
“Swann, who was already being paid millions for essentially running a football program, was allowed to profit off his name while the unpaid players actually toiling in that program could not....
“(But now, after the signing into law of SB 206), the USC quarterback can promote his favorite video game. The UCLA soccer player can be paid to coach at her high school’s summer camp. The entire Stanford volleyball team can make money appearing in an advertisement for Facebook.
“The legislation does not require the colleges to pay the athletes. That idea is filled with too many complications – which ones do you pay, and how much? – and will probably never happen.
“This is the next best thing: athletes finally able to pay themselves, to use their talents for personal gain, the same talents that have long been exploited by colleges in the name of a scholarship that doesn’t begin to cover the value provided by today’s top stars.
“The inequality at USC is mirrored at UCLA, where football coach Chip Kelly is being paid $23.3 million over five years to field a football team that is watched by almost nobody, attracting historically small crowds to the Rose Bowl.
“Meanwhile, in January, Bruins gymnast Katelyn Ohashi performed a stirring gymnastics routine in a video that went viral with more than 44 million views, yet rules prevented her from making a penny from it.
“The California law finally ensures that, in a student-athlete business earning billions annually, the student-athlete becomes part of the business. Other states are discussing adopting similar measures. Here’s hoping they do, finally forcing the NCAA to make drastic changes in the draconian way it does business.
“Granted, much could happen between now and 2023. There could be court appeals and NCAA rules adjustments. There is no way of predicting how this will all look in three years. But no matter what eventually happens, something concrete has finally happened, something big and bold and transformative.”
--Jets fans aren’t receiving good news when it comes to quarterback Sam Darnold, recovering from mono. It’s all about his spleen and whether it is still enlarged. So far, it’s hardly likely he is playing this weekend against the Eagles.
--Yes, it’s only two games, and one was against Washington, but Daniel Jones has a 95.9 quarterback rating...a mark Eli Manning never had for a season, Eli 84.1 for his .500 career (116-116-0). I know, I know...he’s got two rings.
But in the 24-3 Giants win over the Redskins, we had a first matchup between two 2019 first-rounders.
Sally Jenkins / Washington Post
“By the time the tantalizing rookie quarterback duel between Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones finally materialized, it wasn’t even relevant. It was hardly about who had the better arm or the bigger upside. It didn’t even feel like a fair fight. It was just about one player who had the backing of a solid organization and one who didn’t.
“One guy, Jones, is on a New York Giants team in the midst of an orderly rebuilding process, marked by rational thinking and a coherent succession plan, led by a professional front office with confidence in Coach Pat Shurmur. The other guy, Haskins, is playing for the Washington Redskins, the organizational equivalent of a drunken bar car....
“ ‘Let’s see. How do I explain it?’ a clipped-worded, sarcastic, job-imperiled (Coach Jay) Gruden said afterward.
“The offense, with four turnovers and a pitiful 2-for-11 performance on third down, was ‘pretty much inept in all phases,’ the coach said. Of a dozen penalty flags, Gruden said, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ Asked who the quarterback will be next week or in the future, Gruden said, ‘We’ll worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.’ If there is one for him.
“As for owner Daniel Snyder’s thoughts about all of it, those were impenetrable behind the black shades he wore even as he stalked through the stadium tunnel afterward, muttering in a low staccato stream to team president Bruce Allen....
“The Redskins never have a coherent plan – only round robins of backstabbing and blame-shifting, repetitive cycles that culminate in crisis seasons with lame-duck coaches like this one, which has 3-13 written all over it.
“And the players know it. These are professionals, who have reputations and future contracts at stake, and yet they have seemed utterly unwilling to muster a modicum of consistency against any opponent during this 0-4 start. That suggests a couple of things. One, they don’t care what this coaching staff and front office thinks of them. And two, they don’t seem inclined to pour any more wasted effort into this dark hole. It’s just as well not to infect a kid (rookie QB Haskins) with all this losing and embarrassment.”
--The Tampa Bay Buccaneers shocked the Rams the other day 55-40, despite 517 yards through the air from L.A. QB Jared Goff. Then again, it’s not often you throw for 517 and end up with a very pedestrian quarterback rating of 80.3.
Bill Plaschke / Los Angeles Times
“(Goff) furiously dug the team out of several holes, but only after bulldozing those craters in the first place. He brilliantly threw his team to the edge of several comebacks, but then foolishly threw those chances away.
“His passing line was a career high in three categories, with 45 completions in 68 attempts for 517 yards. But, those glories were gutted with three interceptions, a lost fumble, two missed open receivers potentially on their way to touchdowns, and a giant stumble at the finish line.
“ ‘A lot of good stuff to build on,’ said Goff, who also threw two touchdown passes. ‘And a lot, a lot, a lot of stuff to clean up.’
“Yes, Goff was under constant pressure from a furious Bucs pass rush that overwhelmed a shaky-again offensive line. And, once again, his coach Sean McVay did him no favors by quickly and completely giving up on the running game. And certainly, 106 yards of penalties really made life difficult.
“But no matter. Goff was given a rich contract this month for a reason. He was given a $134 million extension with $110 million guaranteed – the most in league history – to overcome the sort of obstacles that would fell ordinary men.
“He needs to be special when nobody else is special. He need to be great when the Rams need great. On Sunday, he needed to be like, well, the opposing quarterback who is playing this season for a similar contract extension and threw for 385 yards and four touchdowns. He needed to be as money as Jameis Winston.”
--I didn’t see Vontaze Burfict’s outrageous hit before I posted last time. I agree with some who are calling for a lifetime ban for the dirtball.
Jim Ayello / Indianapolis Star
“There might be some around the NFL who will wonder if Vontaze Burfict’s season-long suspension without pay was too harsh a penalty following Sunday’s helmet-to-helmet hit on Jack Doyle.
“Frank Reich will not be among them.
“The Indianapolis Colts coach told members of the media Monday that he was ‘glad’ the league took the action it did against the Oakland Raiders middle linebacker and fully supports Burfict’s ban – just as he supported Burfict’s ejection on Sunday afternoon.
“ ‘That was a pretty vicious hit,’ Reich said of the helmet-to-helmet shot Burfict gave Doyle in the second quarter of Sunday’s game. ‘Thankfully (Doyle) came out of that one clean with no (concussion) symptoms.
“ ‘When someone does something like that, one of your players, that’s just not supposed to be in the game. And when it’s against one of your players, you naturally have a reaction. I’m just glad they did what they did at the game and the follow-up action seems very appropriate.’
“Burfict is far from a first-time offender when it comes to hits similar to the headshot he delivered to Doyle. He’s sat out six games due to suspensions for illegal hits and altogether has either been fined or suspended 13 times during the first seven years of his NFL career – all with the Cincinnati Bengals. His status as a repeat offender is what led to his full-season suspension.
“In a letter to Burfict informing him of the suspension, Jon Runyan, NFL vice president of football operations, said, ‘There were no mitigating circumstances on this play. Your contact was unnecessary, flagrant and should have been avoided. For your actions, you were penalized and disqualified from the game.
“ ‘Following each of your previous rule violations, you were warned by me and each of the jointly-appointed appeal officers that further violations would result in escalated accountability measures. However, you have continued to flagrantly abuse rules designated to protect yourself and your opponents from unnecessary risk.’”
Burfict will appeal. When he was ejected Sunday, he ran off the field, blowing kisses at Colts fans. Just an amazing asshole, who is once again up for all manner of December hardware in the yearend Bar Chat Awards, host TBD. Between him and Antonio Brown, good lord...I’m not sure I have enough in the budget for multiple trophies for each.
--Men’s Division I Coaches Poll, Sept. 30:
3. Wake Forest
12. St. John’s
--In the Champions League yesterday, wow, what a total humiliation for my Tottenham Spurs, 7-2 losers at home to Bayern Munich! Serge Gnabry with four goals.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino, already on the hot seat, may not be long for the job, with owner Daniel Levy, who just plopped down a $billion on a new stadium, more than a bit pissed off.
Meanwhile, Manchester City beat Dinamo Zagreb 2-0. For City, it’s all about the CL title next spring.
--Monday, in the Premier League, Manchester United and Arsenal played to a 1-1 draw.
--Track coach Alberto Salazar has been given a whopping four-year ban in a case pursued by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
USADA said in a news release Monday that an arbitration panel decided on a four-year ban for Salazar and endocrinologist Jeffrey Brown for, among other violations, possessing and trafficking testosterone while working at the Nike Oregon Project (NOP), where they trained top runners.
Brown did consulting work for the NOP and was a personal physician for some of the runners.
The BBC did the initial reporting on Salazar, detailing some of his practices, which included infusions of a legal supplement called L-carnitine that is supposed to enhance athletic performance.
The BBC said marathoner Kara Goucher and a former NOP coach, Steve Magness, were among the witnesses who provided evidence for the case.
Among those Salazar coached were four-time Olympic champion Mo Farrah, who parted ways with Salazar in 2017.
Salazar also coached 2012 Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp, with both Rupp and Salazar strongly denying any wrongdoing, and Farrah and Rupp passing all their drug tests.
Salazar said in a statement Monday night:
“I am shocked by the outcome... Throughout this six-year investigation my athletes and I have endured unjust, unethical and highly damaging treatment from USADA. This is demonstrated by the misleading statement released by (CEO) Travis Tygart stating that we put winning ahead of athlete safety. This is completely false and contrary to the findings of the arbitrators, who even wrote about the care I took in complying with the World Anti-Doping code...
“The Oregon Project has never and will never permit doping. I will appeal and look forward to this unfair and protracted process reaching the conclusion I know to be true. I will not be commenting further at this time.”
I will be commenting further in that other column I do on the possible role of Nike’s CEO in this whole matter.
--On a far happier track note, sprinter Allyson Felix won her 12th gold medal at the world championships in Doha, which is one more than Usain Bolt had, the most all-time.
But it was also her first gold medal as a mother, her daughter having been born last November.
Felix’s gold came in a new event which will debut in Tokyo next year....the mixed gender 4X400-meter relay.
We love Allyson!
--From the BBC:
“A man who was gored by a bison in June took a date back to the same place – only for her also to be attacked.
“Kyler Bourgeous brought Kayleigh Davis to the same trail at a state park in Utah with plans to watch the sunset.
“But when Ms. Davis ran a little ahead, she ended up alone with a bison who charged and flipped her into the air.
“She sustained a broken ankle from the goring and a leg wound. In the earlier attack he had suffered a cracked rib and collapsed lung.”
I only listed the guy’s full name as a warning to all you girls in the area. If Kyler comes a calling, quickly close the door.
Top 3 songs for the week 10/3/70: #1 “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (Diana Ross) #2 “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” (Creedence Clearwater Revival) #3 “Candida” (Dawn)...and...#4 “Cracklin’ Rosie” (Neil Diamond) #5 “Julie, Do Ya Love Me” (Bobby Sherman...every time I hear this I think of those older audiences in Branson, Mo., and everyone singing it together...) #6 “I’ll Be There” (The Jackson 5...easily their first or second best...) #7 “(I Know) I’m Losing You” (Rare Earth Minerals) #8 “Snowbird” (Anne Murray...ah, my late mother just didn’t like Ms. Murray, for some reason...) #9 “War” (Edwin Starr) #10 “All Right Now” (Free)
Baseball Quiz Answer: Aside from Gerrit Cole, the only pitchers in the modern game to strikeout 325 in a season are Bob Feller, Sandy Koufax, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson and... “Sudden Sam” McDowell, 325 in 1965...when he also had four saves out of the bullpen. He led the league in ERA that season, 2.18, age 22. McDowell also ‘walked’ the planet over the course of his career.
1969 Mets, cont’d....
They’re in Atlanta, gearing up for their best-of-three series for the National League pennant against the Braves. I’m strangely confident. I’ll cover it next time. I’m going to Game 3 back at Shea, Dad having secured tickets from a guy at the Summit Post Office.
Next Bar Chat, Monday.