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Mudville: December 3, 2022 6:46 am PDT
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Playoff Puzzle

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Fake Runners, in the long run, create Fake Baseball.

That is where the Guardians and Rays found themselves in a slog of a playoff game on Saturday that produced 39 strikeouts, only 11 hits over 15 innings and that one Launch Angle Home Run.

That’s entertainment.

At least in Rob Manfred’s World.

In the Wild Card round the Guardians swept the Rays. The Mariners swept the Blue Jays in stunning fashion, one of the all-time choke jobs in baseball history. The Phillies swept the Cardinals and the Mets stayed alive with a 7-3 win over the Padres.

A true wild card game is set for Sunday at Citi Field, Mets vs. Padres, winner moves on to play the Dodgers.

The Rays No. 9 hitter Jose Siri produced five of those 39 Ks, which is exactly what the Nerds want, your No. 9 hitter swinging for the fences as well as hitters No. 1-8. In many ways the Rays got exactly what they earned, being swept away by the power-shortage Guardians, who scored three runs to the Rays one run over 24 innings of play, all three runs in the series came on the home run in the home run or bust approach.

You can’t be too cute when it comes to October baseball.

This wasn’t exactly the likes of Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax on the mound, or a Warren Spahn vs. Juan Marichal as Terry Francona trotted out eight pitchers to shut down the Rays on a College Football Saturday. The Rays used eight pitchers too in the mix and match affair.

There were five more pitchers than hits in the game. That’s Baseball 2022.

As one former manager noted to BallNine: “No ghost runner in the post-season … So it’s real again.’’

Yes, Post-season 2022 is full go, another version of home run derby.

Of course baseball has always had dramatic home runs – but now it seems like it is home run or bust nearly everywhere, nearly every team, although the Phillies put on a hitting clinic against the Cardinals in their Game 1 win producing six runs in the ninth inning on hits that actually were hit the other way.

The Cardinals managed all of three runs in the two games, a pathetic performance at home, by the way. The baseball Gods smiled on interim Phils manager Rob Thomson, a baseball lifer, a grinder, good for him.

In Cleveland, rookie Oscar Gonzalez got the game winner for the Guardians, lifting an 85-mph Corey Kluber meatball deep into the left-field stands, giving the fans a post-season moment. It will get much more difficult for Francona and the Guardians who will play the Yankees in the ALDS.

With Aaron Judge leading the way with his AL record 62 home runs the Yankees led all of baseball with 254 home runs. The Guardians were next to last with one 127 home runs. This is a home run mismatch. The only team with fewer home runs than the Guardians this season were the Tigers with 110.

So the Yankees essentially get a gift road to the ALCS and another meeting most likely with the Astros.

CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 08: Oscar Gonzalez #39 of the Cleveland Guardians celebrates after hitting a walk-off home run to end the game in the fifteenth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in game two of the Wild Card Series at Progressive Field on October 08, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

If anybody was wondering, the Yankees own a $254 million payroll while the Guardians payroll is $68 million as they used 17 rookies this season.

I was hoping the Guardians would have pushed along the winning run just like in the movie “Major League.’’ You remember, Jake Taylor twice pointed like Babe Ruth to the bleachers, and then put down the bunt that sent Willie Mays Hayes home from second base with a winning hook slide, in turn sending Bob Uecker into orbit with “The Indians win it! Oh my God, the Indians win it!’’

The Rays gave it away in the top of the 15th when after a single by the speedy Vidal Brujan, he did not steal second as Taylor Walls struck out. A single by Manuel Margot moved Brujan to third but that is where he stayed as Francisco Mejia struck out and Jose Siri struck out, Siri for the 5th time.

When all that was needed was a little contact, a little bat to ball skill, a little pepper, the Rays hitters came up with nothing but air, but we will continue to hear how the Rays have revolutionized the game, what they’ve done is revolutionized losing in the post-season.

As well all know, strikeouts don’t matter.

The lies that baseball tells us continue to be told and those in charge do nothing but come up with new numbers to proudly show to their acolytes.

The Rays have their ways of doing things and that’s that. C ya once again Rays. Throughout the series the Rays never tried to create a run they were all in on the big swing and got one big run for their efforts, a home run by Siri.

It’s such a strange brand of baseball. The game could use a little more common sense.

The Fake Runner was used all season and teams came to rely on it as the easy way to score runs, they don’t know how to create a run. It’s a cheap rule by Manfred made to move the games along because even Manfred knows baseball isn’t baseball anymore. The players love it because it means less work for them. The games are shorter so people say it is good for the game but it is one of the worst things ever done to the game of baseball.

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - OCTOBER 08: Bryce Harper #3 of the Philadelphia Phillies celebrates with his teammates in the locker room after defeating the St. Louis Cardinals in game two to win the National League Wild Card Series at Busch Stadium on October 08, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. The Philadelphia Phillies defeated the St. Louis Cardinals with a score of 2 to 0. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The truth is you have to help the Launch Angle swingers score runs. They never bunt, rarely steal, never hit and run and don’t know how to put the ball in play. It would be like an NFL team only relying on 40-yard passes to score touchdowns. This approach is so harmful to the game.

So when it comes time in the post-season to create one measly winning run to win a playoff game, teams are dumbfounded on how to exactly score a run other than by the home run.

They will tell you “the pitching is so much better than it once was’’ which is a crock. You mean to tell me that 15 pitchers were on top of their game in Cleveland, until Kluber served up his 85-mph middle-middle cutter for the home run.

All this will only get worse next season with more rules inspired to help helpless offenses along the road to victory. One other point too. I’m not a fan of the division title being given to the team that wins the season series. The Braves got the NL East because they won one more game against the Mets in the regular season matchup than the Mets won against them.

If that rule were on the books in 1978 there would be no Bucky Dent home run. If that rule were on the books there would be no “Shot Heard ‘round the World’’ by Bobby Thomson in 1951. The Yankees would have topped the Red Sox because they won the season series against Boston in ‘78 but the Giants would have finished second because it was the Dodgers in 1951 who won the season series against the Giants.

Two of the biggest moments in baseball would not have happened.

So it goes. Life moves on. New rules are made that make the game worse and just wait until next year when pitchers basically can’t throw over to first to hold runners. There will be more action, but it will be legislated action not real action.

TORONTO, ONTARIO - OCTOBER 08: Adam Frazier #26 of the Seattle Mariners hits an RBI double against Jordan Romano #68 of the Toronto Blue Jays to take the lead during the ninth inning in game two of the American League Wild Card Series at Rogers Centre on October 08, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)

The Mariners moved on past the Blue Jays in Toronto with an incredible 10-9 comeback of all comeback wins. Leading 8-1, the Blue Jays win probability was 99.1 percent but that’s why they play the games for real. And give the Mariners credit, they came back by putting the ball in play, not just taking home run swings and the biggest hit of the night was the double by Adam Frazier that put the Mariners on top 10-9.

Seattle sure got a lot of help though when Blue Jays interim manager John Schneider pulled starter Kevin Gausman in the sixth inning; Gausman had the bases loaded but just got a strikeout and a popup and that was not good enough for Schneider, who took him out and soon the wheels came off the Blue Jays bus.

The Mariners were thrilled to see Gausman and his splitter leave the game. This was over-nerding at its worst.

Lack of trust loses a lot of games these days and the Nerds can’t wait to get to the bullpen even with big leads and a terrific starter on the mound. Reliever Tim Mayza allowed one run to score by throwing a wild pitch and then surrendered a three-run home run to Carlos Santana – and the comeback was in full swing as the Blue Jays bullpen imploded.

The Blue Jays played unevenly all year and you really never knew what Blue Jays team would show up day to day. After Saturday, you did not know what Blue Jays team would show up inning to inning. They certainly earned this defeat just as the Rays earned their two losses in two games.

You can’t be too cute when it comes to October baseball.

In the Rays case, you have to push across runs any way you can. In the Blue Jays case, you have to be able to close it out with a huge lead.

ST LOUIS, MISSOURI - OCTOBER 07: Jose Quintana #62 of the St. Louis Cardinals leaves the game during the sixth inning of Game One of the NL Wild Card series against the Philadelphia Phillies at Busch Stadium on October 07, 2022 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

The Phillies swept the Cardinals, one of the more overrated teams in baseball this season. Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol went much too quickly to his bullpen Friday pulling Jose Quintana after only 75 pitches with one out in the sixth of a scoreless game, thinking he could get the last 11 outs from the bullpen in the first game of the series. Bad move. Marmol went through four relievers and it all came apart in the 9th as the Phillies just put the ball in play and took full advantage of two key walks and a hit batter.

Phillies interim manager Rob Thomson has done a terrific job replacing Joe Girardi. Thomson was a key component for many years in the Yankees organization, an organized organizational man, one of George Steinbrenner’s favorites. Thomson brought all those skills to the Phillies as manager and trusted his young players. There is that word again – trust – and it was a magical moment watching Thomson congratulate his Phillies Saturday night after the last out.

Trust was a big part of the Mets win over the Padres Saturday night at Citi Field. Jacob deGrom battled through six innings and then in the seventh Buck Showalter – who once as the Oriole manager never used his closer Zack Britton in a 2016 extra innings wild card loss to the Blue Jays – didn’t make the same mistake Saturday night, bringing in closer Edwin Diaz in the seventh inning with the Mets leading 3-2. Diaz got five big outs and the Mets broke the game open in the seventh, scoring four times in the 7-3 victory.

Just another piece to the playoff puzzle that played out in the best-of-three wild card games.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - OCTOBER 08: Pete Alonso #20 of the New York Mets hits a solo home run off of Nick Martinez #21 of the San Diego Padres during the fifth inning in game two of the Wild Card Series at Citi Field on October 08, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Pete Alonso got the go-ahead home run for the Mets in the fifth.

On Sunday it will be Chris Bassitt against Joe Musgrove. The Mets lost Game 1 of the series because Max Scherzer got hammered, time appears to be finally catching up to Scherzer, a warrior throughout his career.

Again, the 101-win Mets had to play the wild card series because there was no playoff game to decide the winner of the NL East. The Padres won 89 games and finished 22 games behind the 111-win Dodgers. It all makes sense in Rob Manfred’s world and with a slew of new rules next season it’s going to get worse.

It should be noted too that the PitchCom system was a big problem for the Padres on Saturday night at raucous Citi Field. I said when PitchCom first arrived on the scene that it would be a problem for visiting pitchers in the post-season. Padres lefty Adrian Morejon had troubles with the PitchCom the entire seventh inning; and with the bases loaded, Jeff McNeil’s double broke the game open.

In the end, it’s important to have eyes on the game, not just eyes on the iPad. There must be a feel and a reason for moves, not just a spreadsheet reasoning for a move.

Congratulations Guardians, Mariners and Phillies for moving on to the next round. More real baseball.

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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