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Mudville: December 2, 2022 7:56 am PDT
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Livin’ in the Real World

There can be no magic without mastery. Not perfection, mastery.

That is a lesson the Mets are learning. They allow their manager to manage and Buck Showalter is doing just that while the other team in New York, the Yankees, are paying Aaron Boone to be a glorified babysitter.

Boone is not alone in that department, if you look around baseball. Too many excuse makers, not enough managers.

That’s a big difference and it shows so far in the play of the two teams.

Never was that more evident than on Tuesday. Buck worked with a struggling starter, Tylor Megill — and by the end of Megill’s day the pitcher produced a fabulous sixth inning and the Mets went on to beat the Giants in the first game of a doubleheader — on their way to a sweep at chilly Citi Field.

Out in cold Detroit, Boone could not connect with his $324 million pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was completely lost in a 46-pitch second inning that he could not finish – and which included 3-2 counts to six different Tigers hitters.

You would think at some point into the collapse, Cole would have just challenged the hitters, maybe taken a little off to gain command; but perhaps all those wonderful years with Spider Tack taught him to tack it more on the coldest of days. Who knows? But one thing was clear, Cole had no inner way of freezing the meltdown. He was alone on an island with no clue.

For all his money and all his talent, Cole is sitting on a 6.35 ERA after that five out, five walk masterpiece, and a walk per out is not a good ratio in any league. Going back over his last four starts, including the wild card clunker in Fenway, Cole’s ERA is 7.28 and in two of those starts he could not get to the third inning. One other start lasted 4 innings and another – a whopping 5.2 innings.

Not exactly ace material or $324 million material.

A scout who told me this spring that Megill would do a great job in Jacob deGrom’s spot in the rotation was at the Mets doubleheader. He put it best, telling BallNine of Megill, “What’s most impressive is he didn’t have his best stuff Tuesday, but he went six innings and Gerrit Cole couldn’t go two innings.’’

Megill owns a 2.20 ERA.

That speaks volumes about mindset and toughness. Cole was throwing 99 but couldn’t get the Tigers out as he was mixing in almost too many pitches. He is a product of overreliance on sequencing and underreliance on just going out there and digging deeper, something all great starting pitchers must do.

All sizzle, no steak – and that is a sign of our virtue signaling times.

During that 46-pitch monstrosity of an inning, Yankee pitching coach Matt Blake went to the mound, put his hand over his mouth and said words that did not seem to penetrate Cole’s pitching wall. I rewatched that inning on Wednesday and it was excruciating baseball.

The Yankees were lucky the Tigers missed catching a popup in the first inning, which allowed two runs to score — and the most amazing part was that the Tiger first baseman, pitcher, and third baseman showed no interest at all in helping catcher Tucker Barnhart, who was clearly in trouble on the windblown popup. At the last second the pitcher, a lefty named Tyler Alexander, made a nonchalant stab at the ball and had it in his glove — but did not close the glove.

You know, basic baseball stuff.

“Aaron Boone isn’t about to set Cole straight. Aaron Boone lives in Lollipop Land where everything is great with the Yankees and Joey Gallo is just one swing away from breaking out..”

This was a visual of how not to play a popup. There was no communication between the players and it looked like A.J. Hinch’s team did not practice any popup situations this spring training. But you can be sure they all watched thousands of videos of their launch angle and the pitchers checked plenty of video of their release points and spin rate.

As for baseball things like popups, come on, don’t bother.

And that is what we are getting at here. The Mets have a clear advantage because in a shortened spring training, Showalter managed to cover bases that you can be sure other teams did not cover — and J. D. Davis breaking off first base against Arizona to discombobulate the D-Backs on an appeal play at third was proof of that.

Other baseball things too happened in Port St. Lucie, like cutoffs and communication.

It is not that Showalter is a baseball genius. He is just a baseball worker. He makes sure the basics are covered and you can see it in the Mets’ play. He also is blessed to have Max Scherzer leading his rotation and Scherzer, who is a master at pitch sequencing, sets the tone for the other pitchers and so pitchers like Megill buckle up and dig deeper.

“Buck brings that mindset because Buck ain’t going to make excuses,’’ our scout said. “You could see Buck prodding Megill along. I thought he was done after five. They tied the game up and they sent him back out for the sixth and said, ‘Hey, go get ‘em big boy, you are a big strong kid.’ And he retired the last six guys in a row, and quite honestly, he gave up four ground ball shift hits in the first two innings that if you are playing straight up defense, they are all outs.’’

No excuses though.

Meanwhile out in Detroit, you could sense that Cole was getting in his own head again, much like the Opening Day Billy Crystal incident, because of a long top of the second inning with the Yankees at bat and the Tigers injured pitcher being replaced. Cole went out in front of the Yankee dugout and warmed up with a catcher; again, this is with the Tigers on the field.

If you are going to do that, do it in the batting cage or something but it seems Gerrit Cole likes to find reasons to make life more difficult.

This gets back to something someone who knew Cole in the Pirate system pointed out to me a while back. With the Pirates, a young Cole had A.J. Burnett there to set him straight. With the Astros, Cole had Justin Verlander and veteran catcher Brian McCann to set him straight.

But there is no such person with the Yankees and Aaron Boone is not about to lead.

DETROIT, MI - APRIL 19: Pitcher Gerrit Cole #45 of the New York Yankees is taken out of the game by manager Aaron Boone #17 during the second inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on April 19, 2022, in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Cole, it appears, can be his own worst enemy and he could use someone with the Yankees to say, “Stop with the excuses, big guy, you’re throwing 99 (clocked in that second inning), so start locating.’’

Boone, of course, played right into woe is me, which is Cole’s wheelhouse.

Boone second guessed himself on leaving Cole in the game too long. While starters like Nestor Cortes Jr. have figured it out, the Yankees and Boone, in particular, continue to make excuses for the supposed ace Gerrit Cole, who is proving to be the King of Excuses.

On Opening Day it was a four-minute delay in the ceremonies that set him off. Against the Tigers, Cole was warming up in front of his dugout when he should have been in the dugout getting his head right, cheering on his teammates and being happy that the Tigers gifted his run-struggling team two runs on a Little League popup mistake.

Matt Blake isn’t about to set Cole straight. Aaron Boone isn’t about to set Cole straight. Aaron Boone lives in Lollipop Land where everything is great with the Yankees and Joey Gallo is just one swing away from breaking out.

It works for Boone, he got his three-year extension even though the Yankees are underachievers under his watch.

Meanwhile, at Citi Field, after being out of the game, Showalter is back in the game making the most of his opportunity. Boone is a broadcaster who got a managing job, Showalter is a manager who got a broadcasting job to stay in the game.

That’s a big difference.

Showalter, as I pointed out in spring training, has Francisco Lindor in a team frame of mind as opposed to Lindor being in a Lindor frame of mind. That is another plus. The moment I saw Buck bring Bill Parcells over to talk to Lindor in spring training I knew Buck was playing the game perfectly at that point, getting a football legendary coach in the mix, raising Lindor’s profile in a team way.

“This is the Lindor I saw before the big contract now,’’ the scout offered, “which is good news for the Mets. It’s all Buck related.

“When you have an adult in the room,’’ said the lifelong baseball man, “you’re a better bleeping team. When you’re a TV broadcaster who is given a managing job and he makes excuses for his players every day, you don’t have an ounce of bleeping toughness to you.’’

Those are tough words. But they are true words and that’s why Showalter could be a pendulum-swinging managerial hire. He could show the owners it is not just analytics and shiny new objects that win; it’s work, it’s building up individual players into a team mindset.

Buck is not perfect. He will make his mistakes, but it does appear that he is on the same page as pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and that will only help him. He can offer smart suggestions and yet allow Hefner (and Scherzer) to drive the pitching bus.

Look, the Yankees are going to make the “everybody gets a cupcake’’ playoffs, but they need to get Gerrit Cole’s head on straight in the process. That is what the regular season comes down to for them. If Cole isn’t right, they have no chance to go deep into the postseason with the anemic offense they have shown so far.

BALTIMORE, MARYLAND - APRIL 16: Manager Aaron Boone #17 of the New York Yankees watches batting practice before the game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 16, 2022 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Buck is not alone. There are other good managers out there who care more about the players than they do about launch angle and spin rate.

“Look around,’’ the scout said. “Joe Maddon always gets his players to perform. Dusty Baker, Buddy Black. Dave Roberts paid his dues. I don’t like Gabe Kapler, but you know what, Gabe Kapler went and managed in the minor leagues and he is a smart guy. Through his ways he is getting the best out of his guys.’’

And there are others, of course. But there also are many managers nowadays who suddenly just wind up with the job.

“These people who just put people in jobs,’’ our baseball man insisted, “in most cases, they are not any bleeping good at all.’’

You throw 46 pitches in the second inning and that’s on you.

“He’s lost, that’s all I can say,’’ the scout said of Cole. “Nestor Cortes is the Yankees’ best starter right now, no doubt, because he knows how to pitch, he knows how to compete, he hasn’t been handed things his whole life. He has a certain toughness about him.’’

In his post 5-out press conference Cole told reporters, “I’m pretty disappointed right now … not able to get leverage and keep leverage … I felt like I was trying to be too perfect.’’

When Boone finally came to get him Cole said “A lot of four-letter words’’ crossed his mind.

About time. Too many buzz words for me in his mind, just go out and pitch. Instead of trying to make a perfect pitch, just make the best pitch you can make at that point.

I have a theory that with the advent of mega-technology in the game, perfection is too much the goal for both hitters and pitchers. With everything graded, with everything measured, the goal should not be perfection, the goal should be to get an out, any way you can for pitchers, and get on base any way you can as a hitter. That’s been lost. Too many gleeful analyses “that fly out was 102 miles per hour.’’

Yeah, it’s still an out.

Buck Showalter is not about seeking perfection. It’s about being ready to get the job done. Forget all the other buzzwords of today’s game. Buck and some others actually manage in the real world.

Leave the virtual world and the search for perfection to the Nerds and the excuse-makers. To find magic, you first have to find yourself and to do that, stop trying to be 98 or 99 on the black every pitch. In Cole’s case, clear your mind, and you may start having some innings where you keep the bases clear of baserunners.

It helps if your manager keeps you in the real world, too.

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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