NOTE: My college football rankings will be released on Wednesday. People will have less time to complain that way.
If you’ve been following my writing, you know that I don’t get around to blogging about baseball much. Much of my baseball time is spent either watching games (there are a lot of them) or looking at box scores and other stats (there are a lot of those too). The reason I find football so blog-worthy is all the time between games to reflect. It’s not, “Well, that was nice, but now we have to make sure we win the series, not just the game. Who’s our starting pitcher tomorrow?” My favorite teams are the Mets (for whom I gave up hope some time ago, not that I ever had too much) and the Angels. Since moving to Southern California seven years ago (where does the time go?), I’ve become more and more of an Angels fan, since they’re on TV almost every day, and it’s not all that hard for me to go to Anaheim to take in a game either.
At least as far as the Angels, there is now plenty of time to reflect. I didn’t expect the Angels to be completely eliminated this soon after being so alive yesterday. I’ll recap why. But on the other hand, when they had elimination magic numbers of 4 and 5 six days ago, I didn’t give them much of a chance.
Anyway, the Angels should have been only one game behind Tampa Bay and two behind Boston headed into tonight.
But with the Boston/New York night game still to go yesterday, All-Star rookie closer Jordan Walden absolutely choked. After the Angels gave up two runs in the top of the 8th–their first two runs given up of the game–Walden did get that final out with no drama. Then the Angels padded their lead from one run to three in the bottom of the 8th. They seemed to be on their way to victory, and a Boston loss would have meant that they would have trailed both Boston and Tampa Bay by only a game each. The Rays began a three-game series at home against the Yankees today, and the Red Sox began a three-game series in Baltimore against the suddenly good Orioles. Starting today, the Angels face the Rangers, who have sewn up the division, at home for a three-game series.
One game behind going into these series would have given the Angels a fighting chance. So in this context, Jordan Walden returned to the mound to hopefully complete a 1 1/3- inning save of Joel Pineiro’s start in which he allowed no runs over 6 1/3 innings. Walked allowed three hits and one run out (HR) in his first four batters faced. But then he fielded a ground ball with a chance for a double play. Not only did his throw prohibit a game-ending double play, it resulted in no outs as it sailed into the outfield and allowed the A’s to score yet another run to get within 1 and leaving runners on the corners. This was followed by a double, which put runners on second and third and tied the score. Mike Scioscia had seen enough and had Walden intentionally walk the next batter and then removed him from the game. Walden left to some fairly heavy boos (in light of the shock of some and relatively laid-back attitude of others [Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers fans… people just enjoying the day] in attendance). The A’s took the lead on a sacrifice fly, and the Angels got a baserunner in the bottom of the 9th but never seriously threatened.
Anyway, for the format, I decided I wanted to write open letters to both Walden and the fans who booed.
First of all, congratulations on your first full season in the big leagues. We’re lucky that we happened to have a closer as capable as yourself on the team without having to pick one up through a trade or free agency.
Pleasantries out of the way, you screwed up. I’m sure you’re well-aware of this. Next time if you’re nervous or not confident in a throw, it’s all right. We’ll take one out in that situation. Maybe you’ll get taken out of the game. So what? It happens to the best of pitchers. Maybe you’ll get a loss, but not likely. Runners on the corners with two outs and a one-run lead is not a terrible situation. Even if you allow another hit, then it’s just a tie game unless the hit clears the bases. That’s not a loss.
I know closers are generally more emotional than starting pitchers, but watch Ervin Santana when you get a chance. He can give up a multi-run home run, and all he wants to do is concentrate on getting the next out. Keep perspective and don’t feel like you have to win the game on your own because you allowed a few hits. You can’t control what’s already happened.
That’s even true of Sunday. A win could have helped complete a miraculous wild card comeback, but it was one game. There were 161 others scheduled this season, and there are 162 scheduled next season. We know you’re not going to get a save in every opportunity, but if you can get a hold and someone else gets a save, that’s all right. If you blow a save and someone else on our team gets the win, that’s all right too. It didn’t work out that way this time, but there will be times where the hitters will come up with one more run than they were planning on needing.
I’ll get into this more with my next open letter, but we don’t expect you to be Trevor Hoffman, Dennis Eckersley, or Mariano Rivera in their prime when to be honest I had never heard of you going into this season. I know you pitched a few times, but the race was over and if I watched, it wasn’t intently enough to notice you. Every save you got was more than I expected and probably more than some of those baseball fans who watch every pitch of the whole season expected. If you become one of those guys (and I see no reason why you can’t), great, but do what you can do first.
Please don’t let one inning negatively affect what you do this offseason or what you do from here forward. Also, don’t let the fans’ reaction get to you. Even many of those who have been complaining about blown saves since long before Sunday still want you to do well and want to support you. Some of the anger is because of other close losses this year, some of it is because of frustration with what used to be a consistent playoff team losing the division two years in a row and not even making it interesting at the end. Or if you’re so inclined, forget the fans. I’m sure there are people in your life who are proud of you. I can’t imagine someone I even know in passing being in your position. Enjoy it. Be proud of yourself.
Also, maybe part of the thing with the fans is the ones who can play baseball know they could have gotten at least one out there. Of course, you could have as well, but that’s what I mean by doing what you can do. If it’s not a perfect double-play throw, you’re not the shortstop, it’s not the end of the world. But you can do better than that every time.
Dear Booing Fans,
Booing this guy, really? We didn’t spend $10 million on him. $400,000 is a lot of money to us (and I know what you’re thinking, pay me 1/10 of that and I’ll throw to second instead…yeah, we’ll let you know when there are designated mound-fielders [MF’s for short]), but find me someone in major league baseball with paid fewer dollars per save.
He was just sort of around the organization and pitched a few decent innings in the last month of last season. If you’re not happy we had him this season, you’re crazy. Go cheer for the Yankees if you can’t appreciate that kind of season-long effort from a previously anonymous player, especially a 23-year-old rookie.
Yeah, I know, it was a pressure situation, and he choked. But this is the team that lost 3-1 on Friday and lost in extras on Monday and Thursday. They also lost by 1 to the Yankees a couple of weeks ago due to a fielding error, and about a week before that, they lost to the Mariners 2-1 without allowing an earned run. Sure, this game, the bullpen had what should have been ample room for error (in the strict statistical sense and otherwise), but we all know there wasn’t quite enough run support for a number of pitchers throughout the year, so there were more tense situations like this one than there should have been. Boston won anyway last night, Tampa Bay won today, and we just lost to a guy named Hamburger (loss by 1 again). Just like I said above, this was one game or 162.
Other pitchers generally had someone else’s error to blame or someone else’s failure to get a hit with runners in scoring position (for example), but a fielding mistake by a relief pitcher? Say it isn’t so. Come on, and a rookie on top of it?
Boo someone who doesn’t run out a ground ball. Boo someone who lazily lets the ball drop right in front of them. Don’t boo someone for trying too hard to fix their own mistakes, which if he had done, it would have made you all happy, at least temporarily. We can all appreciate trying hard on some level, but how many of you were ever in a similar situation? You can’t say the pressure wouldn’t have gotten to you in that moment or that wouldn’t have been the one time you screwed up. If you don’t want him to be the closer, first, you’re crazy if you thought we had better options on the team this year, and second, I don’t care if you boo the manager’s decision to put him in. I don’t mind booing in that situation. To me it says, “Skip, I’m paying attention, I care, but I disagree with what you’re doing right now.” Nothing wrong with that (not that Scioscia causes people who know what they’re talking about to want to do that very often). Just don’t boo when the manager takes him out.