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For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: May 24, 2022 11:32 pm PDT
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Rage Against The Machine

As I sat in the oral surgeon’s chair late Tuesday afternoon waiting to get a troublesome molar extracted, I thought to myself, “Well, at least this is better than watching the Nerds ruin baseball.’’

But later that night, numbed up and sitting in my favorite chair at home, slurping applesauce and recovering from that day’s dental work, I got to see more prime examples of Nerds Ruining Baseball.

The saddest part of this baseball story is that for the most part, the players have rolled over and allowed the game to be stolen from them.

The Braves’ Kyle Wright has been terrific this season, so the only way the Mets could get to him in the second game of the doubleheader they played Tuesday was to let the Nerds set the table for them.

And that is one thing Nerds are great at: setting the table for opponents, then pinning the blame on someone else. It’s never their fault.

The situation: The Mets had come away with a 5-4 win in Game 1 as the Braves struck out 12 times. A quick start in Game 2 would set up the Mets for a doubleheader sweep against the defending World Champions.

Brandon Nimmo, using a small bat and choking up, did what Nimmo does — hitting a leadoff single to center. Then after a fly-out by Francisco Lindor, Jeff McNeil, who came to the plate hitting .342, was gifted a hit because the Braves shifted against the lefty-hitting McNeil and so there was no shortstop at shortstop.

The Mets’ terrific broadcaster Gary Cohen took note and just as he finished saying the shortstop hole is open, McNeil bounced a ball straight to short and into left field for the base hit. Todd Zeile, in the booth with Gary Cohen and a former catcher, was also shocked by the defensive setup, saying, “McNeil can hit a grounder to short ‘all day long’” against such a defensive alignment.

Pete Alonso followed with a pulled little grounder too; but because Alonso is right-handed the shortstop Dansby Swanson was there for the second out as the runners on base moved up. That would have been the third out if the Braves had played McNeil, who sprays the ball all around the field, properly. The pitcher Wright would still have a 1.13 ERA, too, but Dom Smith, following McNeil’s lead, went with the pitch he got and  dropped a two-run double down the left field line, hitting the ball the other way.

At one point in the series the Mets had seven hits under 80 mph. That’s a credit to them and shows the value of making contact. That is something the Mets are doing well this year and it is paying off in a big baseball way. Do baseball things and baseball will reward you.

Over in the Braves’ booth Chip Caray (who knows the game inside and out as a third generation broadcaster) and former outfielder Jeff Francoeur were all over the situation as well. Francoeur mentioned, as McNeil came to the plate, “He chokes up and he tries to almost slap the ball …’’

“Every game is the same no matter who is the opponent. The Pitch Count is the Bible.”

McNeil did just that as Caray described the action perfectly: “Always chokes up on the bat, always seemingly puts the ball in play — as the Braves shift for him and he shoots it in that hole and beats the shift.’’

Four broadcasters knew that shift hit was coming, I knew the shift hit was coming, the Mets fans knew it was coming, and yet the Braves’ Nerds didn’t. They paid the price; but the two earned runs that came around after Smith’s double were charged to Wright, even though Smith never should have come to the plate in the first place.

That’s baseball 2022.

Nerds know it all even though every day they show they don’t know baseball.

That was Exhibit A from Tuesday, and here is Exhibit B — and remember I was hurting after oral surgery, and a little out of it, but I was still more awake than the Nerds.

Followers of “Baseball or Bust” know scouts have been extolling the virtues of the Blue Jays’ Alek Manoah since the day he arrived in the majors. I always try to watch him pitch, especially when he faces the Yankees. The right-hander is fearless and has damn good stuff. He gets up for the Yankees like no other team and on Tuesday, he was dealing. In an epic showdown against Aaron Judge (Judge struck out in his two previous at-bats) Judge put on a great at-bat against Manoah in the sixth inning and crushed a two-out, 3-2, 96-mph fastball into the second deck at the Rogers Centre.

Manoah finished the inning but that was it. He threw 91 pitches. The Pitch Count Monster got him because we all know this generation of pitchers are never pushed.

As a scout friend of mine says: “The bar is always lowered, never raised.’’

In his last three starts Manoah had pitch totals of 95, 92, and now 91.

The days of letting Juan Marichal or even 42-year-old Warren Spahn run up high pitch counts are gone – and now 90 pitches are treated like 130 pitches.

In the past, an ace like Manoah would have gone out for the seventh inning; but no, he did his job and was out after six. The Blue Jays, who have an excellent pitching coach in Pete Walker, followed the Nerd Rules to a T.

Every game is the same no matter who is the opponent.

The Pitch Count is the Bible.

Tune in Tokyo

They don’t watch the games, they pre-plan everything; and the over-reliance on the bullpen is getting out of hand, as the Mets learned on Wednesday, going to Adam Ottavino for the third straight game — and soon a scoreless game was 7-0 Braves on the way to a 9-2 win.

This is my biggest point: the Nerds’ system is bigger than the players. The Collective is more important than the Individual. All pitchers begin to fade after 90 pitches they say, no matter the individual. There is no such thing as allowing a pitcher to figure it out even if he is a little tired.

Essentially, there is no such thing as individual greatness and riding that horse to victory. The Nerds are so condescending they will not even entertain the thought that they blew it. The Yankees went on to score six runs in the seventh inning with Manoah on the bench and against a parade of relievers. A great game turned into a laugher because of the Nerds.

As one scout watching the game said to me, “Manoah is a horse. You ride a horse like him.’’

Not anymore. The horse needs to be put back in the stall.

And you know what, they will turn around and do it the exact same way the next time because no one in baseball stands up to their idiotic ways.

Let’s take out our best pitcher, who is dealing in a huge game against a Yankee team that has won 10 straight and run with a bunch of second-line relievers against these same Yankees, who have made it a way of life to beat second-line relievers.

Good for the Yankees hitters, they have a plan and they stick with it. Judge stepped up with the big at-bat and the Blue Jays fell for it, taking Manoah out of the 1-1 game. The Yankees knew the dam would break once Manoah was out.

Manoah certainly wasn’t tired, that home run pitch to Judge was 96; but now, next time Manoah faces the Yankees he might try to be too perfect, knowing that if one pitch is hit out of the park he will be going to the bench after 91 pitches. He will not be allowed to finish what he starts or even come close to finishing what he starts, which used to be the true test of pitching … but that was B.N.

Before Nerds.

I am offering a dividing line in baseball. There is “B.N.’’ Time, Before Nerds, and “A.N.’’ Time, After Nerds.

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 06: Brandon Nimmo #9 of the New York Mets in action during a spring training game against the Houston Astros at First Data Field on March 6, 2018 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The Mets defeated the Astros 9-5. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

Those who never had the pleasure of watching Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Frank Lary (the original Yankee Killer), young Doc Gooden, and so many others have no idea what I’m talking about. That is their loss. The shame of it all is that today’s fan will not have the excitement of knowing their team will live or die with their best on the mound on that given day.

Even if Manoah had come back for the seventh and given up a run or more, he would have left it all out on the mound and that is the beauty of baseball too. Sometimes your ace gets beat, but it’s a battle — and the battle is appreciated, and if that happens small lessons are learned for the next engagement.

What does Manoah learn from this outing after six innings and 91 pitches?

He learns even when he is at his best, the powers that be would rather trust second-line relievers than him.

You see what I mean about lowering the bar? The system is bigger than the individual in A.N. time.

Baseball used to celebrate the moments, the games where stars rose above on the pitching mound. Those days are over and in that time fans have lost out. Only 22,491 fans showed up Tuesday night for such a big game with their ace on the mound. If that ace had been able to pitch deeper into the game and not automatically be removed after six innings by someone in charge who does not know what it means to stand on a mound and dig deeper, that is the game’s loss and is yet another reason why fans don’t trust the game of baseball like they once trusted baseball.

The promise of going to a game when an ace is on the mound late in the game, win or lose, is over.

Didn’t any of these Nerds ever see Billy Chapel pitch in “For Love of the Game?” Actually, they probably just had “Moneyball” on a loop.

For Love of the Game has been replaced by For Love of the Systems of the Game. What a loss for baseball. If only the players were allowed to play the game.

If only fielders did not have to look into their cap and shift on Jeff McNeil even though McNeil is choking up and looking to slap the ball the other way if the hole is there.

Instead, it’s our system over the individual player. We believe in our system more than we believe in the human experience, more than we believe in you.

It’s sad. Analytics have invaded other sports but not to the degree they have invaded baseball. Tom Brady is still given the opportunity to succeed no matter what, and if he succeeds or fails it’s a great story and the fans have a memory.

Brady is actually football’s version of Billy Chapel now. I could go on and on. The Rams’ Aaron Donald is given the chance to be the difference maker in the Super Bowl late in the game. Some behemoth with lesser talent than Aaron Donald isn’t inserted into the game because Donald has reached his play limit; but in baseball, night in and night out, the pitch count rules no matter what the results say.

It’s so tiring, so predictable.

That’s why I say players need to rage against the machine. If they sit back and continue to be used as pawns, they have lost the right to complain about how they are used. Some pitchers are fighting back against the constant shifting. If more hitters had the approach of Jeff McNeil, more players would be hitting .342 and not .242 or .222 or .192.

The eye test must remain important. Yet it continues to be eroded by those in charge. Legions of coaches, managers, and development people who know what’s right have been cast aside. Just look at the pitiful base running. These players have become such automatons they don’t even bother to count to three anymore.

Red Sox catcher Christian Vazquez doubled with two outs the other day, but was so caught up in his celebration at second base and subsequent chatting up the opposing shortstop and laughter, he forgot there were two outs and broke back to second on a single to left center when he should have scored easily.

In the Dodgers 3-1 win over the Giants on Tuesday night there was the PitchCom issue I warned about when I was the first one to write about PitchCom in depth. With runners on first and third in the Dodgers eighth, reliever Jose Alvarez was clearly having trouble hearing the PitchCom command from catcher Curt Casali. I had mentioned that Dodger Stadium would be a tough place for opposing pitchers to hear the PitchCom commands late in the game, much like it’s hard for visiting teams in the NFL to call a play at the line in the red zone at a rocking stadium.

Throughout the inning Alvarez kept his glove to his ear giving the “repeat the sign” motion. And then with runners on first and third and Freddie Freeman at the plate, Alvarez and Casali got crossed up. Freeman swung and missed at an inside strike while the catcher was set up outside and the ball went to the backstop, allowing the Dodgers to score the vital insurance run.

Nerds rarely think of unintended consequences because they live in their MLB Ivory Towers. Yet the game takes place on the field in real time. Shifts happen. Pitch Count Monsters derail a game. PitchCom cannot be heard.

Thanks, Nerds.

Smart teams and players will take advantage — and I celebrate them for showing the way.

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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