19 May 2009

12_4: Game 40 Unfair Win Shares

At the top level of baseball there are the exceptional plays. Diving catch, darting curve ball, stolen base, fast ball on the corner, drag bunt down the line, a leaping snare and throw across the diamond, a home run over the center field fence. A triple to the gap. The Dodgers know these plays, and many others like them. They often make them. That's how you win games at the highest level.

Running, catching, throwing. Touch them all as you go around the bases. Concentrate, set your feet, make an accurate throw. Catch the ball with two hands. This is the game at the basic level. In the major league we rarely think about these things. It's a calamity when a basic play goes wrong. It's worse than just losing. It's not even belonging in the game at all.

Ryan Church missed third base in the eleventh inning last night. The Mets could have taken the lead. They did take the lead. Church touched home plate and the Mets were ahead 3-2. Remember the time Ethier scored after the inning-ending double play line-out? That run was added later, after the fact. Where did it come from? It came from here. The Dodgers stole that run from last night's game. An appeal to third base would have prevented Ethier from scoring. A failure to appeal at third base would have allowed Church to score. There it is. Balance is restored.

The Dodgers won the game last night by pitching well and making the defensive plays they could make. If the Mets had scored 6 runs on Dodger pitching it's likely none of the errors and blunders would have mattered. An embarrassing blunder is not necessarily a game losing catastrophe, not unless the other team can make it one. The Dodgers were handed the game in the eleventh inning, but first they had to get there. They had to earn that tie through ten innings. Wolf and Broxton got them there, and they get the unfair win shares. Troncoso pitched well for awhile too, but in the end he failed, only to have his failure trumped by one even greater.

The Dodgers once had two men tagged out at the plate on the same throw against the Mets. That blunder is ultimately more memorable because it came in the playoffs. But what we saw in the eleventh last night was more primal, more immediate. When the Dodgers had those two runners out at the plate the game was not lost. They still could have won it, and almost did. The Mets still could have won after Church missed the bag. Baseball is not a morality play, or a cliched narrative. Just because you look horrible one moment doesn't mean you have to lose. Yet there is one exception: if you make your blunder in the bottom of an extra inning, with the score tied and a man on third, then yes, it really is the game, right there. Mets fans of a certain age will remember a time when their team benefited from such a blunder. The stakes were far lower last night, the audience far smaller, the game more disposable, and yet still, I think --- Reed's throw home after fielding Hudson's chopper sailed past the catcher and went right through Buckner's legs.

Unfair Win Shares ( Dodgers )

Wolf -- 2
Broxton -- 1

Unfair Loss Shares ( Mets )

Church -- 2
Reed -- 1

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