Posts Tagged ‘Fredi Gonzalez’

Enough, Already—Bobby Valentine Needs to Go; Yesterday, if Possible

It’s come to this. The other team who collapsed almost as monumentally as the Red Sox did a year ago gets credit for not doing what the Red Sox did, letting an incumbent and decent manager fall on his sword and hiring Bobby Valentine in his place.

The Red Sox collapse spared the Atlanta Braves the ignominy attached to the Red Sox, never mind that nobody accused the Atlanta rotation of spending more time with chicken and brewskis than with pitching charts and sliders on the black down the stretch. And the Braves should probably be grateful not to have had imposed upon them what was imposed upon the Red Sox.

Cover boy . . . (Sports Illustrated image)

“Even as the Braves tease/torment us with the possibility (remote though it would seem) of another epic collapse,” writes Mark Bradley of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “we can take solace in this: As frustrating as they can be, they’re not the Red Sox. Because the Red Sox took their own E.C. of last September and proceeded to destroy themselves.

“They changed general managers. More to the point, they changed managers and hired the absolute worst man for the job, and not a day passes that Red Sox Nation isn’t given a new reason to realize that any organization that employs Bobby Valentine is doomed.”

That, too, was prompted by Valentine’s ghastly appearance on this week’s Sports Illustrated cover. Not to mention Valentine’s unconscionable radio rant a day or so earlier, when he threatened to punch out one of two radio interviewers who dared to question whether Valentine, who hasn’t exactly kept secret his own disenchantment with this season, had “checked out” on it at last.

It would have been hilarious if it hadn’t been so disgusting. And no amount of backpedaling that he was only kidding around has cauterised the impact yet, if ever it will.

Practically anyone who heard the exchange on the air has written that Valentine in that moment sounded anything like a man going for a laugh. Here is the transcript from WEEI, to whose host Glenn Ordway he directed his fumes, after Ordway asked him directly, if not maliciously, “Have you checked out?”:

What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth. Ha, ha. How’s that sound? Is that like I checked out? What an embarrassing thing. Why would somebody even, that’s stuff that a comic strip person would write. If someone’s here, watching me go out at 2 o’clock in the afternoon working with the young players, watching me put in the right relief pitchers to get a win, putting on a hit-and-run when it was necessary, talking to the guys after the game in the food room — how could someone in real life say that?

Apparently, it’s just fine for Valentine to ask whether a Kevin Youkilis has checked out, metaphorically speaking. Valentine in April threw the first match into the natural gas leak that already was the Red Sox clubhouse when he was foolish enough to question since-departed Youkilis’s heart in hand with the first baseman’s physical health. Valentine may have lost just enough of his clubhouse right then and there. Now, knowing Valentine hasn’t exactly been demure about his own frustrations lately, someone had the temerity to question Valentine’s heart. And Valentine went Hiroshima.

Imagine if Youkilis in mid-April had been asked in a radio interview about his manager’s original comment and told the questioner, “What an embarrassing thing to say. If I were there, I’d punch you right in the mouth.” What would you consider the odds of Youkilis surviving without taking a beating from the rest of the press or from his own bosses? Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been run out of town sooner than he finally was?

Just when you thought, as I did just a day or so ago, that it was safe to bear even a modicum of sympathy for the man, Valentine drops Little Boy and makes yet another big stink. Compared to him, Ozzie Guillen is beginning to resemble a diplomat.

It got even better when Valentine, parrying an inquiry into his late arrival at the ballpark, dragged Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon into it, saying Maddon sometimes gets to the park even later than Valentine “once” did. To his credit, Maddon refused to let Valentine make a beard out of him. “Apologies to the writers for being late to today’s pregame session,” he tweeted post haste. “My pedicure appointment ran a little late.”

It’ll take more than a pedicure to settle Valentine’s and the Red Sox’s hash. Bradley isolates the point rather well.

No wonder this man’s smiling . . .

Some Braves fans who were so disenchanted with the user-friendly Fredi Gonzalez last September that they took to AJC.com message boards to lobby for a hard nose with a flair for tactics—a man, in sum, like Bobby Valentine. Trouble is, nobody who plays for this “tactician” can ever be troubled to do as he asks: They’re all too busy hating their manager’s guts.

The Red Sox serve as both case study and object lesson: They failed spectacularly last season and overreacted, and today they’re one game out of last place in a five-team division and have taken to selling off assets in the hope they might get a little better somewhere down the road. The Braves stayed the course and are again positioned to make the playoffs. Sometimes we around here criticize the Braves for being too passive, but whenever we look toward Boston we should be reminded that motion for motion’s sake is never a good idea.

The Red Sox thought it’d be a good idea to throw the smarmy Bobby Valentine into a combustible clubhouse, and today the flagship team of New England is in ashes. And we learn yet again that actions do have consequences.

So does partial action. So does inaction. The Red Sox are learning about both the hard way, too. It’s no longer possible to hang most or even some of it on the players, with maybe one or two exceptions. Sure, they’ve still had a season in hell on the field. But those who were considered Valentine enemies, actual or alleged, are gone now. The season in hell continues apace, and Valentine keeps putting torches to the fires and his foot in his mouth. All the way to his ankle.

The longer the Red Sox leave him where he is, the deeper runs the perception that this is a management that either wouldn’t know a clue or couldn’t care less. All things considered, it probably should have happened immediately after The Big Deal. But Valentine needs to go. Yesterday, if possible. For the sake of the Red Sox, and just maybe for his own sake, too.

Berkman's End (Possibly), and Other Doings and Undoings . . .

You wouldn’t have thought so, with the hoopla around the Boston-Los Angeles blockbuster, but there were happenings aplenty in baseball over the past couple of days . . . including the possibility of retirement for one of the game’s most respected players.

The end may be near for Lance Berkman. The St. Louis first baseman has started a rehab assignment (knee) in Memphis, but he’s talking like a man who’s thinking seriously about calling it a career.

“I don’t want to say for certain because I don’t want to do like Brett Favre and say, ‘I retired; I’m not retired; I’m retired; I’m not retired.’ I don’t want to make that call right now, but if you put a gun to my head and demand an answer today I would tell you I’m probably not going to play next year,” he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Dumping a final-strike quail to re-tie Game Six in the tenth and set up Freese’s game-winning bomb . . .

Berkman also admitted retirement was a temptation when his knee gave out in May, but he hung in out of a sense of obligation to the Cardinals, for whom he came up big during their “mad dash” (the paper’s words) to the 2011 wild card, through the postseason, and then that extraterrestrial World Series triumph.

At this writing, Berkman is 37th on the all-time on-base percentage list at .409 and 34th on the all-time slugging percentage list at .545. He’s a six-time All Star with a .949 lifetime postseason OPS and a .954 lifetime regular season OPS, not to mention 48.9 wins above a replacement player. It’s actually all good enough to make him just short of an average Hall of Famer; the injuries probably ground him down before he could secure a once-and-for-all case.

For all his excellent career, Berkman’s absolute singular moment may have been Game Six of last year’s World Series—when the power hitter re-tied the game in the bottom of the tenth with anything but the long ball. Ducks on the pond, two out, and the Cardinals down to their final strike of the year for the second time on the night . . . and Berkman dumps a quail into short center to send home Jon Jay, set up Jake Westbrook’s scoreless top of the eleventh relief, and make possible the hanging first-pitch changeup David Freese would hit over the center field fence for the walkoff win in the bottom of the eleventh.

But if this is really going to be it for Berkman, it’ll be time to say a reluctant goodbye to one of the game’s classier acts.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

ROCKET FOOL, CONTINUED—Former major leaguer Doug Glanville, now an ESPN writer, thinks Roger Clemens is living in a bit of a dream world, if he thinks he has a major league comeback in him.

BOMBS AWAY!—While Chris Davis yanked three homers for Baltimore Friday night, Adrian Beltre—who hit three against the Orioles Wednesday night—hit for the cycle while teammate Matt Harrison took a no-hit bid to the seventh.

CRACK DOWN—Considering enough of the actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance talk hooks around Latino players, Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez (himself Cuban born) says stricter penalties plus an all-in educational program tailored toward the Latino players and their developers wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

CONEHEADS—Minnesota rookie Scott Diamond, who leads the Twins in ERA (3.04) this season, got a six-game suspension for throwing behind Josh Hamilton’s head Thursday night, in apparent retaliation for Roy Oswalt catching Joe Mauer in the back earlier, and apparently without a warning going out after the Mauer brush . . . Derek Jeter, meanwhile, took one upside the head from Cleveland’s Corey Kluber Friday night—though Jeter said he was angrier at the ball coming to his head (it hit the bill of his batting helmet) than at Kluber himself.

Berkman’s End (Possibly), and Other Doings and Undoings . . .

You wouldn’t have thought so, with the hoopla around the Boston-Los Angeles blockbuster, but there were happenings aplenty in baseball over the past couple of days . . . including the possibility of retirement for one of the game’s most respected players.

The end may be near for Lance Berkman. The St. Louis first baseman has started a rehab assignment (knee) in Memphis, but he’s talking like a man who’s thinking seriously about calling it a career.

“I don’t want to say for certain because I don’t want to do like Brett Favre and say, ‘I retired; I’m not retired; I’m retired; I’m not retired.’ I don’t want to make that call right now, but if you put a gun to my head and demand an answer today I would tell you I’m probably not going to play next year,” he tells the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Dumping a final-strike quail to re-tie Game Six in the tenth and set up Freese’s game-winning bomb . . .

Berkman also admitted retirement was a temptation when his knee gave out in May, but he hung in out of a sense of obligation to the Cardinals, for whom he came up big during their “mad dash” (the paper’s words) to the 2011 wild card, through the postseason, and then that extraterrestrial World Series triumph.

At this writing, Berkman is 37th on the all-time on-base percentage list at .409 and 34th on the all-time slugging percentage list at .545. He’s a six-time All Star with a .949 lifetime postseason OPS and a .954 lifetime regular season OPS, not to mention 48.9 wins above a replacement player. It’s actually all good enough to make him just short of an average Hall of Famer; the injuries probably ground him down before he could secure a once-and-for-all case.

For all his excellent career, Berkman’s absolute singular moment may have been Game Six of last year’s World Series—when the power hitter re-tied the game in the bottom of the tenth with anything but the long ball. Ducks on the pond, two out, and the Cardinals down to their final strike of the year for the second time on the night . . . and Berkman dumps a quail into short center to send home Jon Jay, set up Jake Westbrook’s scoreless top of the eleventh relief, and make possible the hanging first-pitch changeup David Freese would hit over the center field fence for the walkoff win in the bottom of the eleventh.

But if this is really going to be it for Berkman, it’ll be time to say a reluctant goodbye to one of the game’s classier acts.

MEANWHILE, BACK IN THE JUNGLE . . .

ROCKET FOOL, CONTINUED—Former major leaguer Doug Glanville, now an ESPN writer, thinks Roger Clemens is living in a bit of a dream world, if he thinks he has a major league comeback in him.

BOMBS AWAY!—While Chris Davis yanked three homers for Baltimore Friday night, Adrian Beltre—who hit three against the Orioles Wednesday night—hit for the cycle while teammate Matt Harrison took a no-hit bid to the seventh.

CRACK DOWN—Considering enough of the actual or alleged performance-enhancing substance talk hooks around Latino players, Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez (himself Cuban born) says stricter penalties plus an all-in educational program tailored toward the Latino players and their developers wouldn’t be a terrible idea.

CONEHEADS—Minnesota rookie Scott Diamond, who leads the Twins in ERA (3.04) this season, got a six-game suspension for throwing behind Josh Hamilton’s head Thursday night, in apparent retaliation for Roy Oswalt catching Joe Mauer in the back earlier, and apparently without a warning going out after the Mauer brush . . . Derek Jeter, meanwhile, took one upside the head from Cleveland’s Corey Kluber Friday night—though Jeter said he was angrier at the ball coming to his head (it hit the bill of his batting helmet) than at Kluber himself.

The Proverbial Change-of-Scenery: Just What Hanley Needed?

The proverbial change of scenery scenario is almost as old as Fenway Park. A player thought to be a secured ingredient in a team’s fortunes proves less enough of that, for various reasons, that when the team decides to let him walk into free agency, or makes a nebulous attempt to re-sign him, or trades him away, the team can’t resist thinking that the old change of scenery will do the player and, perhaps, the team a huge favour.

It works in individual ways. Kevin Youkilis, for example, has enjoyed a healthy mini-renaissance with the Chicago White Sox, almost from the moment he was all but run out of Boston, following an early season dust-up over Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine publicly questioning his heart when his field production began to collapse, not to mention an injury or three that further sapped his numbers, if not his spirit. Now Hanley Ramirez has launched himself to a reasonably respectable beginning with the Los Angeles Dodgers, to whom he was traded a few days ago, after all but being run out of Miami.

New beginning? Ramirez hits what proves a game-winning two-run bomb against the Giants Friday night . . .

Maybe the worst kept secret in baseball has been that Ramirez had become less than the glittering superstar he once looked to be, in hand with a disposition that could be described, charitably, as less than chipper. “Ramirez, for all his talent, was a player of diminishing production over the past few years, ultimately not up to the role of being the focal point around which a team could be built,” writes the Miami Herald‘s Greg Cote. “He had eroded from a budding superstar to a falling star. He was too often selfish and temperamental—his attitude well-reflected recently when he sliced his hand on the blade of a dugout fan he punched in anger, then suffered an infection because he failed to take his antibiotics.”

Among the Marlins themselves, who learned of the deal practically when they awoke Wednesday (the deal was done in the wee small hours), the reaction was rather well mixed. Jose Reyes, whom the Marlins signed to big money over the winter, told reporters it was like losing a brother, but another unnamed Marlin said Ramirez “pulled Reyes down with him.” Yet another Marlin who asked for anonymity told the Herald there were smiles enough, because a player coddled unreasonably was gone at last.

“They created a monster from a very good baseball player—gave him so much slack to do whatever the [expletive] he wanted because he was performing,’’ this player told the paper. “You can push some things aside when you’re hitting .340 with 40 home runs. You say ‘He’s a [jerk], but I can deal with it . . . But when you’re not playing and you’re trying to be that same [jerk], it starts rubbing people the wrong way.’’

Catcher John Buck showed a slightly different perspective. “That’s kind of what I heard when I got here—that he was a bad teammate,’’ he told the Herald. “But from the time I got here until now I can honestly say he became a better teammate without a doubt. When he left he was giving hugs to guys, and from what I hear it might not have happened in the past. It’s real easy to jump on the guy and say we got rid of the problem. That’s unfair to him. It wasn’t Hanley’s fault—the lack of him being a vocal leader or a cool guy to some guys in here — that we are losing. It’s ridiculous to put it on him. It’s on all of us.”

But not all the Marlins got themselves benched for non-hustling, as happened to Ramirez on more than one occasion. Fredi Gonzalez, who now manages the Atlanta Braves, may or may not have lost the same job with the Fish after he benched Ramirez for non-hustle in 2010. On the other hand, Gonzalez’s successor, Edwin Rodriguez, resigned last June after a losing streak abetted by Ramirez’s sluggish return following a back problem. Ramirez spoke warmly enough when Jack McKeon came out of retirement to manage the team the rest of 2011, but one of McKeon’s first acts back in the pilot’s chair was to bench Ramirez for a combination of non-hustle and being late for a team meeting.

And not all Marlins, as yet another player unwilling to attach his name to the comment, would have gotten away with Ramirez’s apparently overdoing his clubhouse music while under-doing any disappointment in the team’s losing and even treating team staff and assistants “like crap. You couldn’t pop off back at him or lay him on his [butt] for it. What’s going to happen? He’s going to stay here and I’m going to be gone.”

Wore out his welcome in New York, became useful player after . . .

That’s hardly a new story in the game, either. New York Mets fans may still remember dubious trades the club made in the latter 1980s and early 1990s, many involving players who were still more than useful but less than enraptured by phenom-turned-struggler Gregg Jefferies. Only when Jefferies had isolated himself in the clubhouse completely, while his production looked as though it would never live up to his former phenom billing, did the Mets move him onward. Only when Jefferies was away from his first organisation (and, perhaps, out of the New York glare, where every flaw is magnified and every shortcoming overanalysed), and from the furies that knobbled him, did he make himself into a useful major league player, slowly shedding his image as a spoiled brat, until injuries ground him down and out.

Buffeted in Philadelphia, he thrived awhile when he left . . .

The 1960s Philadelphia Phillies often swapped players who tangled with talented but troubled Dick Allen, who was seared by racism but badly mishandled his desperation to escape. Abetted by antics that would humble him to remember decades later, Allen finally got his wish at the end of 1969. He didn’t quite overcome his furies until after his baseball life ended, but Allen did remain a useful and often awe-inspiring player for awhile after leaving Philadelphia (he has a statistical Hall of Fame case, in fact), especially when—almost single-handledly—he yanked the 1972 Chicago White Sox into pennant contention, earning an MVP for his trouble, too.

Ramirez helped the Dodgers sweep the San Francisco Giants over the weekend, indicating a fine opening to his change-of-scenery scenario. His two-run bomb in the tenth inning Friday night provided the victory margin. If he made a fielding error during the set, it was a hustling error. He even looked more patient at the plate than he ever looked as a Marlin. Ramirez himself credits Dodger hitting instructor Manny Mota. He played, in other words, like anything but the guy about whom the Herald cited team officials and coashes as saying “he’s simply not a winner.”

Maybe he thinks he needed the change more than anyone else thought he did? Maybe Ramirez thought the Marlins and their too-frequent administrative chaos equaled non-winners? He hasn’t said anything yet, so far as is known at this writing. But maybe these Dodgers and their becalmed manager don’t mind non-vocal leadership so long as it’s leadership at all.

The 129 Minutes Heard 'Round the World

I could say that there are no words, but then I wouldn’t be a writer. I could say that I didn’t know what to think or say when Evan Longoria tore Scott Proctor’s 2-2 service over the fence for game, wild card, and what remained of the Boston Red Sox’s hearts; when badly-spent rookie Atlanta relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel heaved up the tying run in the ninth and Hunter Pence ripped a two-out RBI single in the thirteenth. But then I wouldn’t be a baseball fan.

Except that for a good while I actually didn’t know what to say. I had just kept my closest eye on maybe the greatest night in baseball history, and the most heartbreaking fifteen minutes the sport has ever seen, and I could only replay the moves in my mind and my heart. Not to mention where the Red Sox and the Braves stood well enough at the top of the wild card heap when September began only to stand in the shadows of collapse, complete and profound, two nights before September would end with a postseason beginning that both teams would see only on television. Assuming they retained the stomach for it.

Fredi Gonzalez isn’t likely to lose his job over the Braves’ self-immolation. Terry Francona may well have lost his over the Red Sox’s. Gonzalez inexplicably sounded the call of no excuses after Pence’s single closed the Braves’ coffins and one his key mistakes, his overuse of his bullpen in the first half, no longer had the resources to keep Atlanta’s anemic offence from being overmatched by a Philadelphia lineup that didn’t know the meaning of the words lay back and let it happen. Francona inexplicably dozed at the tiller while his Red Sox proved ill-conditioned, ill-consistent, and perhaps ill-aligned when the heaviest heat of the stretch drive bore down upon them.

Remember this time notation: 9:56 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Wednesday, 28 September 2011. From that moment, as the Red Sox and the Braves enjoyed tight 3-2 leads while the Tampa Bay Rays were unamused by a 7-0 deficit (to the AL East champion New York Yankees, basically in tuneup-for-the-postseason mode), baseball essentially chose to remind a jaded nation just what is its real national pastime and which of its professional sports still holds the deepest capacity for the most transcendental drama. Especially when, as many did, the final month begins with those who should know better yawning over its guaranteed absence.

For one trans-dimensional night, meet the King of Swing . . .

Even if it meant Kimbrel, otherwise a solid Rookie of the Year candidate with the rookie saves record, throwing a meatball that could be dumped for a seeing-eye tying RBI in the ninth.

Even if it meant Longoria possibly giving the out-of-town scoreboard a fleeting glance before hitting a three-run homer off Luis Ayala to pull the Rays to within a run of a Yankee team with no stake in the race any longer because they’d already wrapped the East.

Even if it meant the St. Louis Cardinals—whose own stupefying return from the land of the living dead will be forgotten too often in the tales of Atlanta and Boston deflation—finishing their 8-0 abuse of the worst roster in Houston Astros history, ensuring that even if the Braves hung in to pull out a win it would mean, at best, the equal of a condemned prisoner filing one more court appeal.

Even if it meant an up-and-down first baseman, who can’t normally hit if you suggest he try a hangar door, stepping in against a Yankee no-name named Cory Wade and hitting one out with the Rays down to their final strike, sending that one to extra innings in the bargain.

Even if it means the drama going from acute to beyond the fifth dimension, when a rain delay in Camden Yards finally ebbs and the Red Sox can resume the festivities against the Orioles, whose season would end in the basement but who were playing for spoiler to climax an apparent season-long feud with the Olde Towne Team.

Even if it means Pence swinging like a quadriplegic to sneak a broken-bat base hit to where neither second baseman Dan Uggla nor first baseman Freddie Freeman can reach it, to put the Phillies up 4-3 in the top of the thirteenth.

Sing a song of one Pence . . .

Even if it means Freeman grounding into a season-ending double play, leaving the Braves the potential holders of the worst September collapse ever this side of the 1995 California Angels.

Even if it means Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox’s hearty reliever, opening the ninth with back-to-back punchouts only to close it with back-to-back doubles, including the ground-rule game tyer from Nolan Reimold and, three minutes later, Robert Andrino dumping a quail that Carl Crawford, the Red Sox’s high-priced snatch from Tampa Bay, whose season had been one of exposing himself as an overrated talent in the first place, got a glove on only to see it bang off its edge unconscionably and roll away for the game-losing RBI.

Even if it means, three minutes after that, Longoria turning on Proctor and the Red Sox with one long-distance swing and joining company with Gabby Hartnett, Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, Chris Chambliss, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter, Aaron Boone, Steve Finley, and David Ortiz.

Even if it means only too many people are going to obsess enough with the Red Sox’s and the Braves’s self-immolation that they need to be reminded that the Rays made themselves into the greatest comeback team September has ever known, from nine out to the wild card, with the Cardinals doing what they hadn’t been done since they did it on the backside of the infamous Phillie Phlop of 1964—from eight back to the World Series.

That’s the genuinely sad part. More people remember the Phillie Phlop than the Cardinal Comeback. And more people will remember the self-immolations of this year’s Braves and this year’s Red Sox than the gallant self-resurrections of this year’s Cardinals and Rays.

Ortiz himself must be feeling the pangs of hell in his oversize heart. Once upon a time, he stood tall and proud as the man who finished what Dave Roberts started and launched the Red Sox toward the beginning of the greatest postseason recovery ever. Seven years later, he stands among the beaten as part of the worst collapse in the same team’s tortuous enough history.

One only imagines the pangs in Chipper Jones’s heart. The only incumbent Brave to have been there when the Braves last won a World Series, in 1995, pushing himself now on balky knees while the rest of the bats around him ran the gamut from papier mache to parchment and back. Jones could do no more to stem his team’s deflation than had been done over all those early-and-often postseason executions. Only this time he wouldn’t even get into the postseason to test any prospective curse on the Braves. This time, the Braves had taken a gasoline bath and lit the cigarettes of the condemned before the bath was dry. It likely leaves the aging and banged-up Jones to ponder whether he’ll try one more season, one more pennant race, one more chance to join his Braves for one more clean World Series shot.

They’ll recover a lot more readily than the Red Sox will, alas. The Red Sox. A team who’d fractured a long-standing curse of surrealistic heartbreak, thought they had it made, and learned the hard way how unkind it is to tempt the baseball gods once too often and with little to appease them. A team who’d once been hale and hearty heartbrokens, learning the hard way that complacency, indifference (the stories have already wafted up about the striking lack of chemistry on this year’s model), and reputed sloth merely leaves you heartbroken.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia prays he wasn't really there when this happened to his Red Sox . . .

It’s as though Dave Roberts’ stolen base, David Ortiz’s eleventh-hour bombs, Curt Schilling’s blood-and-boots pitching, Johnny Damon’s salami, and Keith Foulke’s shovel to Doug Mientkiewicz were figments of the imagination.

Once again, we see Leon Culberson throwing high to Johnny Pesky, Joe McCarthy pulling Ellis Kinder, Dick Williams asking what Jim Lonborg no longer had, Luis Aparicio stumbling around third, Darrell Johnson pulling Jim Willoughby, Bill Lee throwing an insult to Tony Perez, Don Zimmer sitting Luis Tiant for Ice Water Sprowl, Bucky (You-Know-Whatting) Dent hitting the home run, the grounder skipping through Bill Buckner’s wicket, Grady Little committing to Pedro Martinez’s heart without checking his flesh and bones.

Those Red Sox teams were at least done in in honest effort. This one was done in by . . . well, we don’t want to say dishonest effort. But this injury-pockmarked Red Sox team didn’t have what that injury-pockmarked Tampa Bay team ended up having. Those Red Sox teams provoked a literature of tragedy unlike any baseball has ever known this side of the Chicago Cubs. This one is likely to produce a book of calumny. (It’ll only begin with how the Rays could have come back from the dead without Crawford while the Red Sox came back from the land of the living with him.)

And, the unemployment of the franchise’s most successful manager. Terry Francona once shepherded the end of 86 years of transcendental heartbreak. Now he’s the the poster boy, right or wrong, for one season of transcendental heartbreak. Fredi Gonzalez is probably counting his blessings. In Atlanta, they don’t call for heads on plates or dates with the lions in Turner Field over this kind of thing. If they did, Bobby Cox would be the answer to a trivia question, not a Hall of Fame manager in waiting.

The 129 Minutes Heard ‘Round the World

I could say that there are no words, but then I wouldn’t be a writer. I could say that I didn’t know what to think or say when Evan Longoria tore Scott Proctor’s 2-2 service over the fence for game, wild card, and what remained of the Boston Red Sox’s hearts; when badly-spent rookie Atlanta relief pitcher Craig Kimbrel heaved up the tying run in the ninth and Hunter Pence ripped a two-out RBI single in the thirteenth. But then I wouldn’t be a baseball fan.

Except that for a good while I actually didn’t know what to say. I had just kept my closest eye on maybe the greatest night in baseball history, and the most heartbreaking fifteen minutes the sport has ever seen, and I could only replay the moves in my mind and my heart. Not to mention where the Red Sox and the Braves stood well enough at the top of the wild card heap when September began only to stand in the shadows of collapse, complete and profound, two nights before September would end with a postseason beginning that both teams would see only on television. Assuming they retained the stomach for it.

Fredi Gonzalez isn’t likely to lose his job over the Braves’ self-immolation. Terry Francona may well have lost his over the Red Sox’s. Gonzalez inexplicably sounded the call of no excuses after Pence’s single closed the Braves’ coffins and one his key mistakes, his overuse of his bullpen in the first half, no longer had the resources to keep Atlanta’s anemic offence from being overmatched by a Philadelphia lineup that didn’t know the meaning of the words lay back and let it happen. Francona inexplicably dozed at the tiller while his Red Sox proved ill-conditioned, ill-consistent, and perhaps ill-aligned when the heaviest heat of the stretch drive bore down upon them.

Remember this time notation: 9:56 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Wednesday, 28 September 2011. From that moment, as the Red Sox and the Braves enjoyed tight 3-2 leads while the Tampa Bay Rays were unamused by a 7-0 deficit (to the AL East champion New York Yankees, basically in tuneup-for-the-postseason mode), baseball essentially chose to remind a jaded nation just what is its real national pastime and which of its professional sports still holds the deepest capacity for the most transcendental drama. Especially when, as many did, the final month begins with those who should know better yawning over its guaranteed absence.

For one trans-dimensional night, meet the King of Swing . . .

Even if it meant Kimbrel, otherwise a solid Rookie of the Year candidate with the rookie saves record, throwing a meatball that could be dumped for a seeing-eye tying RBI in the ninth.

Even if it meant Longoria possibly giving the out-of-town scoreboard a fleeting glance before hitting a three-run homer off Luis Ayala to pull the Rays to within a run of a Yankee team with no stake in the race any longer because they’d already wrapped the East.

Even if it meant the St. Louis Cardinals—whose own stupefying return from the land of the living dead will be forgotten too often in the tales of Atlanta and Boston deflation—finishing their 8-0 abuse of the worst roster in Houston Astros history, ensuring that even if the Braves hung in to pull out a win it would mean, at best, the equal of a condemned prisoner filing one more court appeal.

Even if it meant an up-and-down first baseman, who can’t normally hit if you suggest he try a hangar door, stepping in against a Yankee no-name named Cory Wade and hitting one out with the Rays down to their final strike, sending that one to extra innings in the bargain.

Even if it means the drama going from acute to beyond the fifth dimension, when a rain delay in Camden Yards finally ebbs and the Red Sox can resume the festivities against the Orioles, whose season would end in the basement but who were playing for spoiler to climax an apparent season-long feud with the Olde Towne Team.

Even if it means Pence swinging like a quadriplegic to sneak a broken-bat base hit to where neither second baseman Dan Uggla nor first baseman Freddie Freeman can reach it, to put the Phillies up 4-3 in the top of the thirteenth.

Sing a song of one Pence . . .

Even if it means Freeman grounding into a season-ending double play, leaving the Braves the potential holders of the worst September collapse ever this side of the 1995 California Angels.

Even if it means Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox’s hearty reliever, opening the ninth with back-to-back punchouts only to close it with back-to-back doubles, including the ground-rule game tyer from Nolan Reimold and, three minutes later, Robert Andrino dumping a quail that Carl Crawford, the Red Sox’s high-priced snatch from Tampa Bay, whose season had been one of exposing himself as an overrated talent in the first place, got a glove on only to see it bang off its edge unconscionably and roll away for the game-losing RBI.

Even if it means, three minutes after that, Longoria turning on Proctor and the Red Sox with one long-distance swing and joining company with Gabby Hartnett, Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, Chris Chambliss, Carlton Fisk, Kirk Gibson, Joe Carter, Aaron Boone, Steve Finley, and David Ortiz.

Even if it means only too many people are going to obsess enough with the Red Sox’s and the Braves’s self-immolation that they need to be reminded that the Rays made themselves into the greatest comeback team September has ever known, from nine out to the wild card, with the Cardinals doing what they hadn’t been done since they did it on the backside of the infamous Phillie Phlop of 1964—from eight back to the World Series.

That’s the genuinely sad part. More people remember the Phillie Phlop than the Cardinal Comeback. And more people will remember the self-immolations of this year’s Braves and this year’s Red Sox than the gallant self-resurrections of this year’s Cardinals and Rays.

Ortiz himself must be feeling the pangs of hell in his oversize heart. Once upon a time, he stood tall and proud as the man who finished what Dave Roberts started and launched the Red Sox toward the beginning of the greatest postseason recovery ever. Seven years later, he stands among the beaten as part of the worst collapse in the same team’s tortuous enough history.

One only imagines the pangs in Chipper Jones’s heart. The only incumbent Brave to have been there when the Braves last won a World Series, in 1995, pushing himself now on balky knees while the rest of the bats around him ran the gamut from papier mache to parchment and back. Jones could do no more to stem his team’s deflation than had been done over all those early-and-often postseason executions. Only this time he wouldn’t even get into the postseason to test any prospective curse on the Braves. This time, the Braves had taken a gasoline bath and lit the cigarettes of the condemned before the bath was dry. It likely leaves the aging and banged-up Jones to ponder whether he’ll try one more season, one more pennant race, one more chance to join his Braves for one more clean World Series shot.

They’ll recover a lot more readily than the Red Sox will, alas. The Red Sox. A team who’d fractured a long-standing curse of surrealistic heartbreak, thought they had it made, and learned the hard way how unkind it is to tempt the baseball gods once too often and with little to appease them. A team who’d once been hale and hearty heartbrokens, learning the hard way that complacency, indifference (the stories have already wafted up about the striking lack of chemistry on this year’s model), and reputed sloth merely leaves you heartbroken.

Jarrod Saltalamacchia prays he wasn't really there when this happened to his Red Sox . . .

It’s as though Dave Roberts’ stolen base, David Ortiz’s eleventh-hour bombs, Curt Schilling’s blood-and-boots pitching, Johnny Damon’s salami, and Keith Foulke’s shovel to Doug Mientkiewicz were figments of the imagination.

Once again, we see Leon Culberson throwing high to Johnny Pesky, Joe McCarthy pulling Ellis Kinder, Dick Williams asking what Jim Lonborg no longer had, Luis Aparicio stumbling around third, Darrell Johnson pulling Jim Willoughby, Bill Lee throwing an insult to Tony Perez, Don Zimmer sitting Luis Tiant for Ice Water Sprowl, Bucky (You-Know-Whatting) Dent hitting the home run, the grounder skipping through Bill Buckner’s wicket, Grady Little committing to Pedro Martinez’s heart without checking his flesh and bones.

Those Red Sox teams were at least done in in honest effort. This one was done in by . . . well, we don’t want to say dishonest effort. But this injury-pockmarked Red Sox team didn’t have what that injury-pockmarked Tampa Bay team ended up having. Those Red Sox teams provoked a literature of tragedy unlike any baseball has ever known this side of the Chicago Cubs. This one is likely to produce a book of calumny. (It’ll only begin with how the Rays could have come back from the dead without Crawford while the Red Sox came back from the land of the living with him.)

And, the unemployment of the franchise’s most successful manager. Terry Francona once shepherded the end of 86 years of transcendental heartbreak. Now he’s the the poster boy, right or wrong, for one season of transcendental heartbreak. Fredi Gonzalez is probably counting his blessings. In Atlanta, they don’t call for heads on plates or dates with the lions in Turner Field over this kind of thing. If they did, Bobby Cox would be the answer to a trivia question, not a Hall of Fame manager in waiting.

"That's telling me I was incorrect in my position . . .": Jerry Meals

“It’s a shame,” Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said Wednesday, “because Jerry Meals is one hell of an umpire.”

Meals is also one hell of an honest ump, based on remarks he made later in the day Wednesday about his call that enabled the Atlanta Braves to win a marathon, 19-inning, 4-3 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates in Turner Field. The Braves won after Julio Lugo, tagged above his right kneecap on his thigh by Pirates catcher Michael McKenry, was called safe by Meals, inexplicably.

After coming into the locker room, I reviewed the incident through our videos that we have in here and after seeing a few of them, on one particular replay, I was able to see that Lugo’s pant leg moved ever so slightly when the swipe tag was attempted by McKenry. That’s telling me that I was incorrect in my decision and that he should have been ruled out and not safe.

—Jerry Meals.

He didn’t exactly apologise; there was no “I’m sorry” in the comment, but clearly Meals knows what did happen. Clearly enough, he said it. Let’s give Meals the benefit of the doubt and acknowledge his regret. He wasn’t out there looking to job the Pirates. But let’s also acknowledge that the blown call is still further evidence on behalf of replay.

Just as clearly, there’s still a lot of baseball to play yet. Though they were surely right to protest the Tuesday/Wednesday outcome, it’s on the Pirates to do exactly what they suggested themselves in protesting—shake it off and play their best baseball the rest of the way. To the extent that nobody can argue one blown call at the plate triggered a pennant race collapse for a plucky team that’s spent the season thus far defying everyone else’s expectations.