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Mudville: July 19, 2024 11:09 pm PDT

Let’s Get World Serious

Baseball is the land of magic numbers.

When I say .406 what comes to mind?

Has to be Ted Williams iconic batting average from 1941, right? .406. The Splendid Splinter was the last man to hit .400.

Now it has a new meaning 4:06. Four hours and six minutes. That was the length of Game 1 of the 2021 World Series, won by the Braves, 6-2 over the Astros at Minute Maid Park. The Astros tied the series Wednesday night with a convincing 7-2 victory, thanks in part to beating the Braves’ shifts.

The premier event in baseball is starting and ending much too late. It’s been happening for a while, but the pace of play has never been worse because you combine it with the lack of action, you have one giant lack of entertainment mess.

But it gets worse. In Rob Manfred’s Baseball World, it always gets worse.

Here is another number … 4 1/2, that was the number flashed by FOX five pitches into the bottom of the first to represent the over-under on the projected number of strikeouts by Braves starter Charlie Morton in Game 1. That’s the FOX Bet Sportsbook for Total Strikeouts, not to be confused with the Pete Rose Bet Sportsbook or the Shoeless Joe Jackson Bet Sportsbook.

At that moment analyst John Smoltz noted: “Anybody who took the over is going to win tonight.’’

Morton struck out only three. The people who bet the over didn’t win. Morton was hit by a comebacker and broke his leg and pitched only 2 1/3 innings. Incredible that there are World Series betting platforms in a sport that still has Pete Rose and Joe Jackson not in the Hall of Fame.

Sometimes if you bring in the right mindset of player, players who will pass the baton and play for the team, good things can happen and now the Braves will be tested again with the Morton injury.

It’s a crazy game and as former MLB player Jeff Frye noted: “It’s tough to watch. Betting odds on the screen! Catchers not even attempting to block balls! Players pulling out cheat sheets constantly! Oh and every game is 4 hours.’’

This is the World Series, not some middle of the season game.

Says it all.

Two is the number of Lost Baseball Souls in the game because of betting, a game that now endorses betting at every turn and has odds everywhere and betting advertisements even on the mound.

Just another installment of Rob Manfred’s juicy hypocrite MLB world. Atlanta had the All-Star Game taken away by Manfred & Co. and at the time I said it would be baseball justice if the Braves played in the World Series.

Here’s hoping that Manfred has to face the wrath of the scorned Braves fans and will have to present the World Series trophy to the Braves at Truist Park. That would be interesting. It’s either that or presenting it to the Astros, who were scorned because of the cheating scandal.

It was 3:36 in the afternoon when Bill Mazeroski hit his home run over the 406 sign at Forbes Field to close out the 1960 World Series. That was the greatest World Series home run moment and that was more than four hours before Game 1, 2021 even got started. I know things change and time waits for no one, but Maz’ home run formed a lifetime of memories for so many fans and they became lifelong baseball fans. That was a bet on tomorrow Commissioner.

Now baseball has no regard for young people watching the games. Why should they? They can’t bet.

Some other numbers. There were 23 strikeouts in Game 1. The Astros went 1-for-9 with RISP. The Braves went 2-for-9 with RISP. The team that does the best with runners in scoring position will win this series. Both teams left nine men on base.

Are you noticing a pattern?

Winning the World Series is about putting the ball in play.

Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros celebrates after hitting a one run home run against the Atlanta Braves during the seventh inning of World Series Game 2 Wednesday night. (Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

That the Braves are here after losing MVP candidate Ronald Acuna Jr. to a knee injury tells you all you need to know about baseball on the fly. Sometimes if you bring in the right mindset of player, players who will pass the baton and play for the team, good things can happen and now the Braves will be tested again with the Morton injury.

To me, the fact the Twins and Indians gave up on Eddie Rosario, who was the NLCS MVP when the Braves dispatched the heavily-favored Dodgers, tells you all you need to know about the state of talent evaluation at the GM level in the game.

It is so bad.

A few years ago, I remember having a conversation with Brian Cashman about reloading a team at the All-Star break. I said there are so many terrible GMs out there that really don’t know talent. Make trades with those GMs and reload.

Cashman understood what I was talking about but unfortunately for the Yankees, years later he would think acquiring Joey Gallo in just such a trade was a good thing.

Interesting that Derek Falvey, who runs the Twins, came from the Indians organization. Alex Anthopoulos traded Pablo Sandoval to the Indians for Rosario.

Anthopoulos made a series of good deals to get the Braves here, including Jorge Soler, but my concern is that over the last few years he got rid of a lot of good baseball people in the Braves organization that helped build this organization, but for now Anthopoulos is king of the hill. In past years, I knew he was a big believer in scouting so that is a good thing and helps explain the Braves success. Still, too many scouts and development people that helped get the Braves to this point are no longer working for the Braves.

The bottom line with the Braves is that Freddie Freeman is the kind of player and person that a winning organization must build around. Freeman is a free agent after the season, but the Braves cannot let him get away. They really never should have let it get to this point.

Freeman is a steadying force in the field, who shows up to play every day. He is a power hitter who also is a line drive hitter, rare in today’s launch angle game. As long as the Braves have Freddie Freeman, they have a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. This World Series, his first, gives the rest of the world a chance to see how Freeman leads, if the fans can make it through the four-hour games.

Atlanta Braves right-hander Charlie Morton exiting during the third inning of Tuesday's World Series Game 1 win after suffering a fractured right fibula. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Morton injury adds another hurdle for the Braves, but the Braves have been jumping hurdles since early August. Everyone thought the Braves would never beat the Mets this year in the NL East, but the Braves have been proving people wrong all season and the Mets, they can’t even put together a front office after making some dreadful mistakes in the front office the past year.

Steve Cohen talked at length about wanting to be like the Dodgers. The free-spending Dodgers are the blueprint he said he wanted to follow but the Braves are right under his nose, and it is the Braves he should emulate. He could start by making Walt Weiss his manager but more on that at Baseball or Bust after the World Series. The Mets need to go the veteran route and make either Brian Sabean, Dan Duquette or Dan O’Dowd the GM.

They have already tried it twice with two young nerds in Jared Porter and Zack Scott. Why go the same untested route with another nerd?

With the Morton injury, it is my belief that Brian Snitker will have to do more seat of his pants managing the rest of the way because everything can’t be as scripted by the nerds knowing your veteran ace is done for the World Series. Dusty Baker is in a similar boat with the loss of Lance McCullers Jr. at the top of his rotation.

Both managers are going to have to think as they go and that could make this one of the more intriguing World Series in that respect.

Too many nerds in the kitchen spoil the broth. Look what happened to the Dodgers in the NLCS. They lost their starting pitching advantage trying to outsmart the Braves and once they over-used Max Scherzer starting and relieving, they were cooked.

The strategy in any World Series should be as simple as the strategy that Jack McKeon observed in the 2003 World Series when the Marlins beat the Yankees in six games.

Don’t overthink this, fellas. That is the advice too from McKeon, who turns 91 next month. He beat Dusty Baker and the Cubs in seven games in the 2003 NLCS, then went on to beat the Yankees in six games. He was down, 3-1 to Baker and the Cubs and won the final three games of the NLCS with some bold decisions and some help from Steve Bartman.

Eddie Rosario of the Atlanta Braves grounds out against the Houston Astros during the fifth inning of World Series Game 2 Wednesday night. (Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images)

McKeon kept it simple, especially on offense.

“I don’t know why they play these damn games at 8 o’clock… I know why they do it, television – they run the show – money,’’ McKeon told BallNine from his home in North Carolina.

Jack McKeon was always about getting the lead.

“My philosophy was always about a run at a time, every chance you get to score a run,’’ he said. “I’m not going for nine-run innings I’m going for a run an inning. If you want to give me two, fine. That puts the pressure on the other team. That’s why you like to get the lead and keep adding to it. But you don’t see much of that today. If you have a 4-0 lead and get runners on first and second with no outs, we’re going to go and see if we can hit one out of the park instead of moving the runners over and getting one or two runs.

“We don’t want to hurt the player’s feelings by putting the bunt on,’’ McKeon said.

“That’s why you always hear players say about their manager’s ‘I love him, he’s got my back.’ Yeah, he’s got their back … for last place.’’

Watching this postseason McKeon came away with this thought.

“The ridiculous use of six, seven or eight pitchers a game,’’ McKeon said. “Where are the Goose Gossages or the Dennis Eckersleys that gave you two and three innings to win a ballgame. The analytics today, ‘Oh, the third time around, they hit him.’ Yeah, bullshit. Tell that to Gibson and Drysdale.’’

Tell that to Josh Beckett in 2003.

When McKeon’s Marlins beat Baker’s Cubs in Game 5, Beckett threw a complete-game shutout. In Game 6 Steve Bartman did his thing and so did the Marlins in their comeback win but in Game 7, McKeon told his pitching coach that he may use Beckett for an inning even though he had pitched Game 5. That one inning became four innings and Beckett got the Marlins through the eighth inning in Game 7.

Then against the Yankees, McKeon used Beckett on three days rest to close out the Yankees in Game 6 at Yankee Stadium.

“You go with your gut and your head,’’ McKeon said. “I was not going to let it go to seven with the Yankees. The Yankees have that mystique about them that something good happens to them in Game 7.’’

Not always of course, but the Yankees have that mystique.

Now that Snitker has lost Morton, what would McKeon’s advice be to the longtime minor league manager? “Well, I can’t give the advice because the analytical people wouldn’t like it,’’ McKeon told me.

“I was talking with (longtime pitching coach) Mark Wiley the other day and we were saying, we can’t believe the way these guys use pitchers – but the truth is the managers like Dave Roberts are told by the analytics guys to get these guys out.’’

Then the manager will say something like, “This is the way we have been doing it all year.’’

“This is not all year,’’ McKeon said. “This is a different situation.’’

“In that series with the Cubs, Beckett pitched a two-hit shutout on Sunday. We have an off-day Monday and then we go into Chicago to face (Mark) Prior and (Kerry) Wood,’’ McKeon said. “So I say to the pitching coach, if we need Beckett for an inning in Game 6, I’m going with him. I get him up in the fourth inning, he goes the fifth inning, the sixth inning and I let him go four innings. He pitched a four-hit shutout on Sunday and four innings on Tuesday and we win both games. If we lose, he’s got all winter to rest.

“It’s a tough situation because today you are subject to all kinds of criticism, the analytics, the television broadcasters, the media, they are all experts – but they are never down on that (bleeping) field where they have to make that decision,’’ McKeon said. “You do what you have to do to win.’’

McKeon has already signed a contract for 2022 as a special advisor to Nationals GM Mike Rizzo. McKeon played a positive role for the Nationals in 2019 when they shocked the Astros to win the World Series. McKeon literally has seen it all.

“I’ve only been around 70 freaking years,’’ McKeon said with a laugh. And remember he spent time with Johnny Sain as his pitching coach. McKeon was a catcher, too. He knows pitching. He remembers that Sain always believed a starting pitcher needed a 200-inning season to figure it all out, including arm slot.

This World Series, new heroes will emerge especially with the pitching injuries to Morton and McCullers. Keep it simple, McKeon said.

“The hitters will tell you when the pitcher has to come out,’’ McKeon explained. “Have fun. Don’t just take him out because he got three outs and you have to bring the next guy in. They should start paying these guys by the inning.’’

Keep it simple, especially in the World Series.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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