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Mudville: May 23, 2024 9:47 pm PDT

Baseball Men

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Baseball won.

To be even more specific, knowledgeable baseball men won.

To be even more specific, knowledgeable veteran baseball men won.

Now we have a World Series with the Rangers hosting the Diamondbacks on Friday in Game 1 at Globe Life Field.

And perhaps, just perhaps, some people in power, who rely on numbers and measurements and not people, may have learned a thing or two from the rise of the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks, two teams that hit the century mark in losses in 2021.

The Rangers lost 102 games that 2021 season. The Diamondbacks lost 110 games.

Gee, what changed? Was a new winning algorithm discovered by some boiler room Nerd?

No. What changed is this: it’s called hiring Baseball Men. Try it sometimes, Nerds, it may work for you.

Last October, 68-year-old Bruce Bochy, my old San Diego buddy, was let out of Nerd purgatory and named manager of the Rangers by Chris Young. The Rangers immediately became my team and I stated from Day 1 I was rooting for the Rangers to get to the World Series, just to show everyone how important it is to have a real manager in charge these days,

Now Bochy has the opportunity to win his fourth World Series over the last 14 years, simply an amazing feat.

The Diamondbacks, meanwhile, have the best pitching coach in the game in 75-year-old Brent Strom. Strom was named pitching coach of the D-Backs by Mike Hazen after that horrendous 2021 season.

That’s a combined age of 143 for Bochy and Strom.

Old baseball dogs have new tricks … if the Nerds let those dogs out. Bochy has a veteran pitching coach himself in Mike Maddux – so the two teams in the World Series have tons of experience on their side.

It is interesting to note, too, that both Chris Young, a pitcher, and Mike Hazen, a centerfielder, played for Scott Bradley, the former MLB catcher, at Princeton. Scott Bradley is the definition of a baseball man and taught his players well. Kudos to that Jersey guy.

Baseball smarts come in different packages, but make no mistake: it has to be baseball-based intelligence and experience.

Not once this postseason did I see Bochy in the Rangers dugout look at an iPad or study a color-coded packet presented by the analytics staff. Bochy was calm, unless he was yelling at umpires, in the that dugout; taking it all in, leading, thinking – and the same goes for Arizona’s Torey Lovullo, 58, who leaned on Strom to guide his pitching staff.

Lovullo is old school too, make no mistake about that; and his taking on professional screamer  Chris Russo is proof of that. “He’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder – he comes to kick your ass,’’ one top talent evaluator told BallNine on Wednesday.

To me, the best comment of the NLCS was made by Lovullo before Game 6 in Philadelphia when he threw down the gauntlet saying, “We didn’t come cross-country to get our asses kicked.’’

The Diamondbacks then went out and won Game 6, 5-1, setting up their Game 7 victory.

Nothing fancy. That’s putting it in simple baseball terms. Bust your ass.

Both the Rangers and the Diamondbacks won a Game 7 on the road. The Rangers beat the Astros at Minute Maid Park, a place where the Astros lost the hitting magic that once came via clanging trash cans. The D-Backs dispatched the Phillies at the zoo known as Citizens Bank Park.

Both winning teams did it with pitching, hitting, and defense. After a couple games where the Diamondbacks played scared, they got their mojo back in the desert and won Games 6 and 7 in Philadelphia, an incredible accomplishment.

In Game 7 it was the Phillies who played scared, swinging at pitches from Strom’s hurlers out of the zone, going for home runs instead of moving runners along.

The D-Backs played egoless baseball. They had 11 hits to the Phillies five in the 4-2 Game 7 victory Tuesday night. The Phillies were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring posting, and that J.T. Realmuto single did not score the runner, who was surprisingly held up at third and was left to die on the vine.

The Phillies only hit one home run the last two games of the NLCS as Strom got his pitchers to use the Philly hitters’ aggressive nature against themselves with wild swings, clearly caught up in the excitement of the moment.

It was pitching artistry at work.

Road victories don’t come cheap. These were earned.

The Rangers left no doubt, in their Game 7, crushing the Astros 11-4 Monday.

The Rangers and Diamondbacks also each had a star step up with incredible performances throughout the series. For the Rangers, it was monstrous Adolis Garcia. For the Diamondbacks it was Ketel Marte and in Game 7 Marte got a huge assist from rookie Corbin Carroll, the 16th pick of the 2019 draft; and let me remind devoted Mets fans that was four picks after the Mets selected Brett Baty.

While we’re at it, let me once again remind Mets fans that tough-minded Tommy Pham was right. He added toughness to the Diamondbacks and had the guts to say the Mets didn’t work as hard as they should have worked. Of course, that was evident in their record.

“Tommy Pham went out and busted his ass,’’ the evaluator said of the veteran player who set the tone for the young Diamondbacks.

Nothing fancy. That’s putting it in simple baseball terms. Bust your ass.

It’s also good to see that running the bases is a thing again in MLB and with the ridiculous rules restrictions on pitchers holding runners and those pizza box bases, every team, every night should be able to steal four to five bases – if they’re trying. Yes, it’s that easy. Speaking of steals, what a steal the Diamondbacks pulled off trading for young catcher Gabriel Moreno, stealing him from the inept Blue Jays management.

The AL East sure knows how to let talent get away – as the Blue Jays showed with that deal and Brian Cashman’s pronouncement that pitcher Jordan Montgomery was not a postseason fit for the Yankees. Bochy proved otherwise, including having Montgomery come on in relief in the third inning of Game 7 to right the ship.

And you wonder why Cashman’s Big Payroll Yankees were not one of 12 earning an invite to the postseason dance. When you give away drafted pitching talent, no less a lefty, that’s a big blow.

The first couple of games of the NLCS it was the Diamondbacks who looked like deer caught in the headlights. That changed across the board.

“The Diamondbacks flipped the script and it was the Phillies who played scared to death,’’ a top evaluator said. “The Phillies didn’t deserve to win. You can’t just rely on three-run homers against good pitching.’’

Meanwhile the D-Backs put the bat on the ball when they had to produce their runs, even if they had to break their bats.

You know, baseball things.

“Yeah,’’ the evaluator said, “sacrifice bunts, stolen bases, guys going first to third, their team speed, their defense, those things all mean stuff that a lot of people think don’t mean anything.’’

They mean something.

So much is made of the BABIP statistic, I suggest they come up with a new stat: OFHRISP. That stands for Opposite Field Hits with Runners In Scoring Position, like the single Moreno laced to right field against RHP Jeff Hoffman in the fifth inning that put the Diamondbacks on top to stay, 3-2.

By the way, if Zack Wheeler is in my bullpen, he needs to be first one in for Ranger Suarez, not Hoffman, much like Bochy did with Montgomery following Max Scherzer. I’ll take the ace over the journeyman any day of the week.

Yes, the Phillies, the team with the Big Marbles, got Small Marbles after taking a 2-0 lead in the series and having Craig Kimbrel destroy them from within in the desert.

“Kimbrel deflated them,’’ a scout said of the Phillies always struggling reliever. “The fact that it got back to Philly showed me something about the Diamondbacks.’’

You can’t say we didn’t warn you here at BallNine about the baseball abilities of the Diamondbacks.

Before the NLCS began I wrote, don’t sleep on the Diamondbacks – with a trusted scout telling me these prophetic words, “They are a high energy, dynamic team with one of the best pitching coaches in baseball that preps the shit out of their pitchers. They run the bases. You’d better not sit back on a ground ball because they got guys that are busting their ass from the time they hit the ball all the way through the bag. There are gamers on that team.

“And don’t forget Brent Strom was the pitching coach in Houston who always prepped his guys to pitch. He’s highly analytically smart, but he also understands what none of these people that have come in and said, ‘mechanics are for cars.’ He understands the importance of having good mechanics. All their pitchers have good deliveries.’’

Imagine that, a baseball playoff preview story with real analysis from real baseball men, not a bunch of numbers thrown at you. Good for you, BallNine readers.

Also, for the 23rd straight year, ever since the 2001 Diamondbacks stunned the Yankees in Game 7, there will not be a repeat World Series winner.

A lot of people maintain that is because the postseason is such a crapshoot.

I maintain it’s because there is too much crap masquerading as baseball leadership and that has created zero back-to-back winners over that long span. Consider it baseball’s version of planned obsolescence.

It was Bochy’s Giants who came closest, winning three in five years, 2010, ’12 and ’14. Bochy and Giants architect Brian Sabean, who was so good at his job, but now is not even granted an interview from the hot mess Red Sox; just another veteran baseball person waiting for that call from someone who is in charge and might wake up.

Both the Diamondbacks and Rangers have a lot of baseball men on the coaching staff and in the organization. In addition to Strom there is first base coach Dave McKay, who is 73 and is a base-running wizard. Former Rangers manager Jeff Bannister is the bench coach. Mike Fetters is a bullpen coach. They have tremendous scouts, as well, such as two I know, Jeff Gardner and Jacob Frisaro.

The Rangers’ winning coaches include Maddux, hitting coach Tim Hyers, who I covered as a player with the Padres, Will Venable, third base coach Tony Beasley, and catching coach Bobby Wilson.

Chris Young also beefed up his front office with former Royals World Series-winning GM Dayton Moore and Joe Jordan in scouting, who used to be the Phillies’ director of player development and was also with the Braves. There are also former players Ian Kinsler, Darren Oliver, and Michael Young.

Chris Young last year demanded that the Rangers start taking more infield practice to improve their defense, a move every team should make – but it was Young who had the courage to demand more work from his players. Defense matters.

Some players may balk at that extra work, and getting millionaires to buy in on all this sweat equity can be a hurdle; just look at what Pham said about the Mets.

One scout put it perfectly, telling me, “They make a big deal about it, saying they make too much money to talk to them. Hey, if you sign the right kind of guys you can talk to anybody.’’

Do the work.

Another great addition for the Diamondbacks was the trade deadline deal that brought closer and super nice guy Paul Sewald, another ex-Met, over from the Mariners. After working with Strom to get his mechanics right he became a significant postseason weapon. Sewald closed out the NLCS in excellent fashion and a scout offered this: “Sewald has an invisible fastball, you can’t hit it.’’

Strom demands excellence, and young Game 7 starter Brandon Pfaadt was sent back to the minors to work on spin and command – and Strom also had the right-hander move from the third base side of the rubber to the first base side, giving him more explosive movement with the ball starting in the zone and going out.

In the end, listen to Diamondbacks reliever Kevin Ginkel, who was masterful in all four appearances in the NLCS, going 4 2/3 innings with a 0.00 ERA. He said it best about the baseball abilities of his team: “We find different ways to win games, we slug, we pitch, we run the bases. Now I’m going to the World Series. Insane.’’

Insane indeed.

Hire baseball men, play baseball – not Nerdball – and the World Series is within reach. Even after 100 losses a mere two years ago.

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.

Comments
  • Robert Kimball

    Hi Kevin – I disagree with your lead. Baseball didn’t win as 2 runner-up clubs are on the game’s big stage. This season devalues the regular year. While I agree it’s a good time for baseball people, we should have better teams playing for the big
    marbles.
    Thanks.

    October 26, 2023
  • Robert Kimball

    Hi Kevin,
    I disagree with your lead. Baseball did not win.
    We have runner-up clubs playing on the game’s big stage. It devalues the regular season.
    But I agree it’s a win for baseball people.
    Thanks.

    October 26, 2023
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