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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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    Mudville: November 29, 2021 4:35 pm PDT
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    First things first, it’s not an Arm Barn, a Dress Barn or a Pottery Barn.

    It’s a bullpen.

    It will always be the bullpen. Case closed.

    The bullpen unfortunately has become the life blood of the game. Starters are yesterday’s news. The Nerds have convinced owners starters are just that. They are starters.

    They never finish.

    Like it or not, that is the game going forward. When you can take out a starter who has not given up a hit on the biggest stage of them all, it is all over for starters. You will never get that piece of the territory back.

    And that’s a shame. We’ve been trying to warn you, telling you what is going on in the minor leagues with pitchers pitching no hitters being taken out of games even with low pitch counts. You may have thought, “that’s the minors, not the majors, AMBS is overreacting that will not happen in the majors.”

    But Ian Anderson and the Braves showed on Friday night in Game 3 of the World Series against the Astros at Truist Park that starters do not have the power anymore. Manager Brian Snitker said he went with his gut feeling, “Going with my gut right there,’’ were his exact words.

    Going with his gut and standard pre-game warning from the Nerds: “Don’t let the starter see the lineup for a third time.’’ Hey, this is the new baseball, the Nerds can run the game any way they want to run the game.

    No one will ever pitch a perfect game in the World Series simply because they will not get the opportunity. Like it or not, that is the baseball world we live in today.

    Unlike starting pitchers, they have the power. They dictate the terms every night. They make soul-less decisions and proudly stand by them with most of the media cheering them on because it is the new way.

    Here is what everyone is missing though.

    One of the great joys of baseball was seeing if the impossible can become possible. And sometimes the impossible was done by the most seemingly imperfect men.

    Take Don Larsen’s perfect game in Game 5 of the 1956 World Series, a 2-0 win over the Brooklyn Dodgers on October 8th, a day 64,519 fans packed into Yankee Stadium.

    Millions would later say they were at the game. And why not. The impossible had happened. That is something every fan who goes to a game wants to see happen. And in the World Series it’s the biggest stage. And as Joe Trimble wrote that day with the help of Dick Young: “The imperfect man pitched a perfect game.’’

    That’s why we love sports. And not just baseball. Anything can happen.

    Scratch one off the list. The days of pitching a complete game in the World Series are pretty much done. Don Larsen has the safest and most secure record in the game.

    No one will ever pitch a perfect game in the World Series simply because they will not get the opportunity. Like it or not, that is the baseball world we live in today.

    Anderson asked his manager a few times if he was sure he wanted to take him out with a no-hitter after five innings and 76 pitchers. Snitker was sure. C-ya, rookie.

    Of course he was. Pitch count would be an issue. The chance of getting 12 outs quickly was never considered as a possible reality with 76 pitches in the book. Maybe Anderson had found something that pitchers find midway through a game. Maybe the baseball gods had determined on a damp and chilly night in Atlanta, his changeup was unhittable.

    Ian Anderson

    ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 29: Ian Anderson #36 of the Atlanta Braves walls back to the dugout during Game 3 of the 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on Friday, October 29, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

    After all, it’s already been one crazy season for the Braves. They lose their best player during the year, Ronald Acuna Jr. Then they lose their best pitcher to a broken leg in the World Series, Charlie Morton.

    How in the world are they even here?

    But none of that mattered because the Nerds, using their special brand of predictive text, had already typed out in the pregame meeting, “Beware the third time around the batting order for the starting pitcher.’’

    It’s Halloween, it’s time for scary messages.

    And once Anderson hit 76 pitches in five innings, there was no way he was being allowed to continue. The 42,898 fans inside Truist Park and the many thousands in the Battery were not going to be given the outside chance to witness baseball history, baseball immortality.

    There is only one World Series no hitter, Mr. Larsen’s Perfect Game – and that’s that. Too bad, fans. This is not about entertainment. It’s about algorithms. It’s not about starting pitching, it’s about bullpenning and even with two bullpen games staring them in the face, the Braves did not want to take the chance on their young starter to hold the 1-0 lead that grew to 2-0 on Travis d’Arnaud’s huge home run to centerfield in the eighth inning.

    It was a 2-0 victory for Don Larsen on that special day when his no-windup worked to perfection. Larsen died a year ago on January 1. Years ago at a Yankee Stadium Old Timer’s Day I remember talking to Larsen about his perfect day and he said “It was a good day. Everybody is entitled to a good day.’’

    Indeed. And that is what baseball is all about. You never know when it is going to be your good day. Don Larsen finished with a career record of 81-91. On the mound he had 81 good days for wins, but only one day was his day.

    His day became every Yankee fan’s day. I was only three years old when Larsen threw his no-hitter, but the legacy of the perfect game was something that I grew up with in Kenilworth, N.J. And on those cool October days when we would ride our bikes up to Harding School to play a game of modified stick ball, sometimes on those cool days Larsen’s name would pop into my head and that is who I was that day when I pitched. No windup.

    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 8: Pitcher Don Larsen (r), of the New York Yankees, wraps his arms around catcher Yogi Berra #8 after the final pitch of Game 5 of the 1956 World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Yankee Stadium in New York. Larsen pitched the first perfect game in World Series history as the Yankees defeated Sal Maglie and the Dodgers, 2-0. (Photo by: Diamond Images/Getty Images)

    This really wasn’t stick ball. We would play with an old baseball bat and a rubber baseball that we used to purchase at the corner store by my house. These balls would take off if you squared ‘em up. And the reason we went to Harding School is because it had a long high wall along the gymnasium. There was where the heavy room divider was stored, and that area jutted out so that light-colored brick wall was about six feet wide and was the perfect home plate area for us.

    And because the wall was so high, we rarely lost a ball onto the roof on a foul ball. We pitched from the blacktop stretched out past the outside basketball courts, so this really was the perfect place to spend an afternoon playing against your buddies.

    For hours and hours we’d play. If there were four of us it was teams of two on two, so you had an outfielder. Sometimes it would be three on three. Most often it was one-on-one. If the weather was cool and you felt you were unhittable that day, you became Don Larsen in the World Series.

    Games like this were played all over America in small towns and big cities. All you needed was a wall with a painted box. The K zone was a thing long before the TV guys came up with it. But it was much more than a strike zone.

    Catch a comebacker and throw it back into the box and you had a double play.

    I’m sure readers of a certain age had their own wall of dreams where they could go off and play. It could have been a school. It could have been a factory (remember those?) In Kenilworth we had our share of factories too. When the town slogan welcomes you with these words as you cross into town: “Kenilworth: A residential community with industrial strength’’ you will have plenty of places to play.

    Would I have chosen to be Don Larsen if not for the perfect game?

    Of course not, I’m not gonna say, “Hey, I’m Don Larsen, the guy who pitched a few years for the Yankees and is now with San Francisco Giants.’’

    Remember, this is 1963, I could be Whitey Ford with a big looping curve, or my cap could fly off with a vengeance like Jim Bouton. Don Larsen was forever known as the Yankee who threw the perfect game in the World Series.

    Who knew that one day I would sit and interview him at Yankee Stadium? Dreams happen.

    HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 27: Brian Snitker #43 of the Atlanta Braves looks on from the dugout prior to Game 2 of the 2021 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday, October 27, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

    Now all these Braves fans came away with “a good day’’ Friday even though it was chilly because the Braves won 2-0. After having the All-Star Game taken away from them, having a World Series victory would be a special time. But just imagine if the Braves and their Nerds rolled the dice with Ian Anderson and somehow, he completed a no-hitter over nine innings.

    We are still waiting on the second no-hitter in World Series history. Roy Halladay produced an NLDS no-hitter, but no one other than Don Larsen has thrown a World Series no-hitter and a perfect game at that.

    Legendary broadcaster Bob Wolff was there to make that historic call on radio throughout the nation and on Armed Forces Radio across the world on Larsen’s perfect game. Wolff never used the words no-hitter or perfect game throughout his broadcast until it was a reality. Up until that point he would say things like, “Larsen has now retired all 24 … the only hits and runs are by the Yankees.’’

    I had many conversations with Bob through the years, he was a class act, and he was superstitious. He found the right words at the right time and when the perfect game was complete with a called strike three of Dale Mitchell.

    “It’s a no-hitter, a perfect game for Don Larsen,’’ Wolff declared. “Yogi Berra runs out there and leaps on Larsen, he’s swarmed by his teammates, and listen to this crowd roar!”

    That’s a perfect call and that memory was etched forever into the minds of the fans.

    There was no such thing as bullpenning at the time.

    Baseball, of course, does not have the hold on the nation that it once did. In fact, Game 1 of this World Series was the lowest non-neutral site number for a World Series opening at 10.8 million and the next game was even lower at 10.28 million, according to Eric Fisher, U.S. Editor for SportBusiness Group.

    In 2019 – the last full season, Game 2 came in at 11.9 million, so that is a big drop. The numbers continue to go down and part of that is because storylines are being taken away with the overuse of analytics. Fans are not running around before a World Series game saying, “I paid a ton of money for these tickets because I want to see who is coming out of the bullpen tonight.’’

    HOUSTON, TEXAS - OCTOBER 26: Charlie Morton #50 of the Atlanta Braves is taken out of the game against the Houston Astros during the third inning in Game One of the World Series at Minute Maid Park on October 26, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

    One of my favorite major leaguers, pitcher Adam Wainwright tweeted this during Game 3 and it speaks volumes about where the game is at: “2 teams battling for the World Series. Tied 1-1 in games. Game score is 1-0 in the fifth inning. A game where both starters were dealing. Both starters have been removed from the game. Bullpen games are looming with lots of questions on how innings will be filled. I don’t get it.’’

    I don’t either, Waino.

    Wainwright nearly beat the Dodgers in the Wild Card game but unfortunately for the Cardinals, their hitters went 0-for-11 with RISP that day. That would have upset the apple cart.

    And here is another example why Adam Wainwright and his sense of humor is a joy.

    He was asked in a tweet by Ben Frederickson, a fine St. Louis columnist, to weigh in on PETA’s request to rename the bullpen Arm Barn. Wainwright responded: “I love animals. I had dogs, cats, fish, a hamster… love ‘em. They’re great. Pets are great. And cows are very important for soil health in farming ecosystems and for providing food for millions of people. Love cows. We should invite them down to the bullpen to hang out sometime.’’

    Classic.

    Bullpenning will continue. It’s the Nerds way. They’ve convinced most of the owners it is the only way to win. For what it is worth, the next time a pitcher has a no-hitter in a World Series, I want to go on record that he should be allowed to stay in the game, especially with a 1-0 lead. His team gave him a run. It was about to give him another one a few innings later. Don Larsen made his 2-0 lead hold up and is immortalized for his achievement.

    The fans who witnessed his success had a lifetime memory and a lifetime story. Baseball became part of their life. And you can be sure for many years later even if they were not big baseball fans any longer, come October they would switch on a World Series.

    If some pitcher had a no-hitter going, they would continue to watch. And for all those fans who were watching Friday night, especially Braves fans, it was a long shot, but they were hoping that young Ian Anderson would be given the shot to face the Astros lineup a third time.

    Taking on a challenge is what baseball is all about. Baseball had the dream storyline working for October, a young pitcher throwing a no-hitter in the World Series. As Dusty Baker said, Anderson was “effectively wild.”

    How far could he go?

    Could the impossible happen again? Even if it doesn’t, it sure is an interesting show. Once a hit is given up, do all the bullpenning you want, Nerds. But next time, at least until a hit is surrendered keep the gate closed and the relievers – and the cows – in the bullpen.

    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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