I Probably Owe Y’all A World War K Update

Since there wasn’t a new World War K post this week, I figured I should post some kind of explanation. Don’t worry, the series isn’t stopping. The next post, which will feature the All Star game and a look at the trading block, should go up next Monday or so. I basically lost a week of free time to a law conference followed by a game jam, which is the first time in recorded human history those two events have been paired up to explain anything, but I do intend to continue and finish, though I may accelerate the time table and there may be more than a week between later posts. There are two reasons for this.

First: I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the Kansas City Royals are still playing baseball. The ALCS begins later today, and they’ll face off against Baltimore for the chance to appear in their first World Series since The Series That Shall Not Be Named here in St. Louis. This has kind of put a damper on the story of rebuilding an underdog Kansas City team

When I first introduced the Royals back on July 14, they were 48-47, six and a half games out of first place and looking so listless that even Buzzfeed couldn’t make a list about them. Then, in August and September they went 34-21 and barely captured the Wild Card before beating the cream of the NL West and advancing to where they are today. Let’s just say this makes framing the narrative of my posts rather difficult, since I’m probably going to have to play a lot of games or save-load several times to get a run better than the real one will end up being.

This isn’t the first time this has happened to me. In early 2004, I wrote a screenplay that had a ton of titles over the months I worked on it. The one I remember is Fenway’s Ghost, so you can probably guess were this was going. The plot concerned a con artist who posed as a ghost whisperer/psychic who scams his way into the Red Sox front office by claiming he can speak to the spirit of Babe Ruth and lift the Curse of the Bambino. Once he has the job, though, the real ghost of Babe Ruth appears to him and threatens to expose the con unless they work together.

It was a dumb, broad comedy that had to dance around being too much like Major League, but I still thought it was pretty good. Before I could even edit it enough to try and do something with it, the Red Sox actually won the World Series and suddenly it was worthless.

I didn’t want to give up the script, so I rewrote. It couldn’t be about the Red Sox anymore, but there still needed to be a World Series drought, a ghost, and a city big enough that I could write some broad stereotypes and everyone would understand them. You can probably see where I’m going with this, too. I changed the Red Sox to the White Sox, Boston to Chicago, Babe Ruth to Joe Jackson. This required some work, as Jackson’s motivations would be different from Ruth’s and there was no Yankees-level rivalry to give me a natural villain. But I did it. The new script, Shoeless, was done in early 2005.

You all know what happened next. The Chicago White Sox won the World Series, broke their curse, and once again made my script less needed than another American Pie Presents film. At this point, I was working on other projects for school and didn’t have time to rewrite, so I temporarily gave up on the project. But I also did what any fan would do after twice seeming to predict the winner of the World Series less than halfway through the season. I hit “Find – Replace” on a few key terms. Turned Chicago into St. Louis, White Sox into Cardinals, Joe Jackson into Rogers Hornsby, 1919 into 1982. The script didn’t make any sense at all, because Rogers Hornsby wasn’t banned from baseball for throwing games and 25 years isn’t a drought. But the Cardinals still won the World Series in 2006. You’re welcome.

In 2007, I needed a feature-length comedy script to pitch to a few agents and studios, so I returned to the seemingly-magical .scw file and I did something I knew that I could regret for the rest of my life. I decided to make the story about the Chicago Cubs. Not only did I need the script to make sense because it was probably my best writing sample, I had to see just how powerful I was. Could I will the Cubs—the fucking Cubs—to a World Series victory. I’m not sure what I would have done if the Cubs actually took home the trophy in 2007. I might have been too terrified to ever write again.

Fortunately, I never had to answer that question. The Cubs did not win the World Series, though they did make the playoffs. Those three games were filled with plenty of existential terror on my part, let me tell you.

So here we are again, with yet another baseball comedy story threatening to be taken apart by actual baseball. But I’m not going to stop the story of Strike-O-Matic and Pat Burrell, Alcides “aWAR” Escobar and Alex the Girrafe-kin. But if the Royals win the World Series, I’m not sure I can ever in good conscience write fake baseball stories about real teams again.

The other reason that there may be a bit more delay between posts is that I’m returned to an old project I abandoned about a year ago that has a lot in common with World War K. Not ready to make a big, full-on post about it just yet but if you’ve liked these posts then, well, you’ll probably like this as well. So stay tuned for that, and expect the next installment of World War K shortly after the weekend.

The Beltran And The Sea

Carlos Beltran was and outfielder who hit from both sides of the plate with a Marucci maple bat and he had gone fifteen years now without taking a ring. This was not for lack of effort. In the first six years he been in Kansas City where he learned to regard their logo, a crown, with a certain sense of irony. But after six years he traveled to Houston then New York then St. Louis and he proved his worth every October. But each year he would come home with his fingers bare.

In his first years in baseball he was really very fast. He stole bases and went stood out in centerfield. He was so fast that he flattened Mike Cameron with just his running speed. But now he was an old outfielder. His knees were crooked and his arm ached when he pulled it back for a throw. Everything about him was old except the crack of his bat which was the same tenor as a thunderclap and was bold and undefeated.

“Carlos,” Miller said to him as they climbed the stairs of the dugout. “I could go out there with you. We’ve won some games.” Beltran had taught Miller about baseball and the boy loved him.

Beltran looked at him with confident eyes. “If you were my player, I’d take you,” he said. “But you are Matheny’s and there are match ups.”

“He hasn’t much faith.”

“I know,” Beltran said. “But haven’t we?”

They sat on the bench and many of the other players made fun of Beltran. Others looked at him and were sad. The successful players of Boston and St. Louis already won their rings and displayed them in glass cases with wooden plaques and now only looked to add to their glory.

“Carlos,” Miller said. “Can I get your batting gloves for you? If I cannot play with you, I would like to help in some way.”

“You brought us here,” Beltran said. “You are already a man.”

“This is your sixth post season series in St. Louis. Do you think that is a lucky number?”

“Six is a serious number,” Beltran said. “How would you like to see me bring in a ring dressed out with six hundred diamonds? Think perhaps I can?”

“Keep your bat warm, old man,” Miller said. “Remember we are in October.”

Keep my bat warm, Beltran thought. He hoisted the maple stick on his shoulder and, swinging it back and forth with a certain menace, he stepped onto the field. There were other players at other positions stretching and sprinting on the grass and Beltran could hear the roar of the crowd cheering for them but not for him. Beltran stopped in in the on deck circle and waited.

Beltran watched as Matt Carpenter faced the pitcher. Lester was left-handed but Beltran was ready.

This is the World Series. Beltran’s at-bat will be only one at-bat in all the at-bats that will ever be. But what will happen in all the other at-bats to come will depend on what Beltran does in this at-bat. It had been that way all year. All of baseball is that way.

He had no mysticism about baseball though he had played it for so many years.  Most players had superstitions. Beltran had facts. He did not wear a phiten necklace because of its magnetic properties but because its color gave his eyes a certain comforting warmth. He did not eat an entire chicken before each game for luck but to be strong in October for the truly important home runs. He did not tap his bat to hear its sound as a ritual. It was a science. The sound of a good bat is different than the sound of a bad bat. Beltran did not use a bad bat.

Carpenter fouled a pitch back towards the on deck circle. The ball rolled towards Beltran. He knelt down and picked it up.

“Baseball,” he said. “I love and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.”

Beltran  would have liked to come to the plate with a man aboard but the next pitch retired Carpenter. It was a cutter out over the plate and Carpenter should have taken hold of it for a drive but this was baseball. Baseball is a game of skill and a game of luck. The wind always blows harder in your face than at your back. Beltran knew that better than anyone. But he did not dwell on that.

After fifteen seasons without a ring Beltran knew he was not a lucky player. It was good to be lucky. Ryan Theriot was lucky. Pete Kozma was lucky. It was better to be exact. Every at-bat is a new at-bat. When the luck came Beltran ‘s way he would be ready for it.

Beltran stepped to the plate for the first time in a World Series game. He would not be defeated.

Carpenter Syndrome

The St. Louis Cardinals are world champions.  Even a couple hours after the fact, it still doesn’t feel real.  This team has been on the brink of elimination for two months.  They fought tooth and nail to keep their season alive since the end of August.  I almost feel like the only thing to do is write yet another recitation of their struggles, their comebacks and improbably successes.  But that’s fairly well covered.  I’ve already seen several other bloggers handle this better than I could, and I already tried when they slipped into the postseason four weeks ago.

Instead, I want to talk about a specific player.  I’m not sure I’ve ever spent much time on this blog discussing Chris Carpenter and that’s a damn shame.  David Freese might be getting all the headlines.  He was rightfully the NLCS and WS MVP.  His incredible and improbable postseason cannot be ignored.  But Chris Carpenter is the reason the St. Louis Cardinals are World Champs.

Before tonight, the Cardinals had already faced three must-win games.  Game 162 of the regular season.  Game 5 of the NLDS.  Game 6 of the World Series.  Chris Carpenter threw complete game shutouts in two of these games.  That’s why no sane Cardinal fan questioned who would pitch Game 7 of the World Series.  Carpenter wasn’t sharp on three days rest before, but that didn’t matter.  You don’t fall behind in Game 7 with Chris Carpenter sitting in the bullpen.

I’ll admit, there were several times I thought Carpenter should have been pulled.  I wanted Lohse to warm up in the first inning after the Rangers jumped on Carpenter’s flagging fastball and hanging curves.  I thought he should have been pulled for a pinch hitter in the fourth inning when the Cardinals had two runners in scoring position.  I wasn’t sure he should have started the top of the sixth.  I certainly threw a fit when he batted for himself to lead off the bottom of the sixth.  He looked gassed the entire game.  He looked sore and broken; I was just waiting for the Rangers potent lineup to get to him.

They didn’t.

After the NLCS, we learned that Carpenter was beginning to feel elbow soreness and there were questions about his availability for game 1 of the World Series.  Carpenter denied that anything was wrong.  But anyone who pays close attention knew the truth.  Chris Carpenter is 36 years old.  He’s had so many arm surgeries that the next one is free.  He threw for more innings than anyone in the National League.  The speed and movement on his pitches were down from his shutout against Philadelphia.  He was laboring.

Even then, he started game 1.  He started game 5.  And thanks to a postponement, he started game 7.  He pitched nineteen innings in ten days.  It didn’t matter that his arm was hurting.  It didn’t matter that he was aging or that his arm was held together with various ligaments from various other parts of his body.  He kept going.  He kept pitching.

I would not be surprised to find out that Chris Carpenter was playing through a serious injury. But this isn’t supposed to be a pessimistic post.  Right now is no time to worry about what might be revealed by some MRI in the future.  That’s not the point of this.  The point is that we should all appreciate what Chris Carpenter did.

At age 36
After shoulder surgery,  Tommy John surgery, and a tear in his oblique
After throwing the most innings in the NL
After throwing the most innings in his career
After starting two games in the World Series already
On three days rest
With a sore arm
With sketchy command and a weak curveball…

Chris Carpenter held the potent Texas Rangers to two runs in six innings and won game seven of the World Series.

This should not be forgotten, no matter how compelling David Freese’s RBIs and Albert Pujols’s impending free agency might be.

 

 

Elaboration on an Abomination

I wish that I could convince myself that what I am about to write is simply hyperbole.  I don’t want to feel this way.  I don’t want to be this reactionary and short-sighted.  But it’s impossible.  I can’t stop thinking it.  Tonight may have been the worst-managed baseball game I’ve ever watched.  Feel free to correct me.  Tell me about a game that was managed worse. It would make me feel better.

Tonight I watched the St. Louis Cardinals make a series of awful decisions that cost them the lead in the World Series.  And it sucked.

Earlier this evening, I made a very quick post about Mike Napoli’s stats versus righthanded and lefthanded pitchers.  It was brief, and I only made it because I couldn’t fit my point into a single tweet.  Basically, Napoli’s had a strong platoon split for his entire career.  He hits righthanders fine, but he crushes lefties.  This season especially, he’s been one of the best hitters in baseball against lefthanded pitching.  Leaving in noted lefty Marc Rzepczynski to face Napoli with the bases loaded was painfully foolish.  It’s reminiscent of allowing Lohse to face Howard in game 1 against the Phillies.  La Russa loves matchups, and he’s been manipulating them like crazy throughout the playoffs.  Here, he sat in the dugout and watched as a mediocre lefty faced a batter who eats lefties for breakfast.  The result was predictable.  4-2 Rangers.

If only that was all we saw tonight.  Instead, we also witnessed Ryan Theriot pinch-bunt.  Bunting isn’t a great move in general.  There are few situations where it improves the chances of scoring a run.  Most of those situations involve a pitcher at the plate.  There’s no reason to insert a player into the lineup specifically to bunt.  That’s insane.  I thought about citing statistics to prove how insane that is.  I don’t think that’s necessary.  The insanity is self-evident.  And I wish it was the most insane thing we saw.

No, the most insane move of the night was bringing Lance Lynn into the game to intentionally walk Ian Kinsler.  This was the calling card of the catastrophe.  It was how we all know that something was truly wrong.  There’s no explaining it.  Bringing in a pitcher, issuing an intentional walk, then pulling that pitcher should never happen.  Never.  I can contrive an elaborate situation to justify almost any managerial move–even the pinch bunt.  Not this one.  Clearly, the Cardinals management was lost in one of the most important games of the year.

Then to top it all off, in the top of the ninth the Cardinals send Allen Craig while Pujols (who can hit the ball a long way) is batting and Neftali Feliz (who can barely find the strike zone) is pitching.  It wasn’t just predictable that Albert would swing at a ball out of the zone and Craig, slow as his tortoise, would be thrown out at 2b.  It was damn near fated.  Craig can’t run.  Feliz is probably one of half a dozen pitchers in baseball  that Pujols can’t be trusted to make contact with.  Why?  Why hit and run there?  Craig crossing the plate doesn’t win the game for the Cards.  It doesn’t even tie the game.  The only reason to hit and run is to prevent the double play.  DPs have been a problem for the Cards, but consider this:

Albert Pujols has struck out 704 times in his career.  He’s only hit into 232 double plays.  That’s actually a lot of double plays and not that many strikeouts.  But the K is STILL far more likely than the GIDP.

Neftali Feliz has struck out 164 batters in his career.  He’s allowed 150 ground balls.  That’s right, Feliz is more likely to strike out a hitter than allow him to make contact and produce a ground ball.

There’s no reason to just expect a DP.  There’s no reason AT ALL to hit and run.

After the game, the excuses came fast and furious.  There was something wrong with the bullpen phone.  Albert himself put on the hit-and-run.  The speed at which this team covers for Tony La Russa is phenomenal.  If Allen Craig could run as fast as the Cards spin their failures, the team would be coming home up 3-2.

I really don’t know what else to say about what we saw in game 5.  It was atrocious.  It was like watching a car accident, except car accidents are usually over much quicker.

One week ago, the entirety of sports media was fawning over La Russa’s brilliance.  I wonder how many of those same writers dare question him after tonight?