Dealing With Records

The Pros and Cons of Putting History First

Jay Schreiber of the New York Times raised an interesting question yesterday: Did Mets manager Terry Collins do the game a service by keeping his infield back with a runner on third and one out in a game New York led, 9-0, in the ninth inning over Tampa Bay?

The mitigating detail: R.A. Dickey hadn’t allowed a run in 32 2/3 innings, and while the knuckleballer wasn’t exactly approaching Orel Hersheiser’s record 59 consecutive scoreless frames, it was at least close enought to contemplate the possibilities.

Collins, however, was adhering to the Code—he claimed as much after the game—playing specifically not to stifle the opponent during a blowout with an unnecessary display of superiority, and happy to give up a run for a chance at an out. Sure enough, an infield out led to a run and the end of the streak.

Schreiber’s question: “Would Collins have kept the infield back in that situation and allowed Dickey’s streak to end on a simple grounder to short [had Dickey been at 52 or 53 innings instead of 32 2/3?]

The answer is, probably not, and justifiably so; in many situations through history, a player’s chance at greatness has trumped the unwritten rules. From The Baseball Codes:

Properly dealing with records—either one’s own or someone else’s— has long been a part of the Code. It’s why Yankees outfielder Tommy Henrich laid down a curiously timed ninth-inning bunt to avoid a possible double play, assuring Joe DiMaggio another chance to extend his hitting streak in 1941. (DiMaggio did.)

It’s also why, when Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson went into the final day of the 1959 season needing a hit in his first at-bat to push his average to .300, manager Casey Stengel informed him that since the Yankees didn’t have a single .300 hitter on the roster he’d be immediately removed from the game should it happen, to avoid falling below the mark in ensuing at-bats. It’s also why members of that day’s opponent, the Bal­timore Orioles, took up the cause: Brooks Robinson informed Richardson that he’d be playing deep in case the hitter found appeal in bunting; pitcher Billy O’Dell offered to groove pitches; and catcher Joe Ginsberg verbally called for pitches instead of dropping down signs. Umpire Ed Hurley even got in on the act, offering that, if Richardson could “just make it close,” things would go his way. Said Richardson, “There couldn’t have been a more complete fix on.” (The fix might have been on, but it wasn’t complete. Richardson doubled in his first at-bat, refused Stengel’s entreaties to leave the game, went 2-for-3, and ended up at .301.)

There are also some examples regarding Hersheiser’s record, the one Dickey was not allowed to approach, and Don Drydale’s mark prior to Hersheiser breaking it. The Code adherents in these cases weren’t players, however, but umpires:

When Drysdale was on the precipice of breaking Carl Hubbell’s National League record for consecutive scoreless innings in 1968, he loaded the bases against the Giants with nobody out in the ninth inning. When he hit the next batter, Dick Dietz, it forced in a run and killed his streak at forty-four innings, four outs short of Hubbell’s mark. Plate umpire Harry Wendelstedt, however, ruled that Dietz made no effort to get out of the way of the pitch, and ordered him back to the plate with a full count, whereupon he flied out to shallow left field. Drysdale got out of the inning unscathed, in the process tying Doc White’s 1904 record with his fifth straight shutout, and eventually ran his streak to fifty-eight and two-thirds innings.

If Drysdale needed assistance from an umpire while playing the Giants to set his mark, so too did the successor to his record. In 1988, Orel Her­shiser compiled forty-two consecutive shutout innings in pursuit of Drysdale’s standard before finally allowing a run on, of all things, a fielder’s choice—against the Giants, of course. Umpire Paul Runge, how­ever, belatedly called hitter Ernie Riles out at first, ruling that baserunner Brett Butler went out of his way to interfere with Dodgers shortstop Alfredo Griffin on the play at second, ending the inning and wiping the run off the board. (“That slide was just like every other time I slid,” said an indignant Butler, who had indeed advanced directly into the bag.) Her­shiser went on to run his scoreless-innings streak to fifty-nine. “It was a slow chopper, and there was no way they were going to get him at first no matter what I did, so what incentive did I have to try to take [Griffin] out?” said Butler. “A lot of times when records are in the balance like that, there’s no explaining some of the things that happen. People react in dif­ferent ways.”

Ultimately, it would have been difficult to protest against Collins looking out for the interests of his pitcher in such a situation. His strategy would have had nothing to do with disrespecting the Rays, and everything to do with propping up R.A. Dickey.

Not much fault to find with that.

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Johan Santana, No-Hitter Etiquette, Terry Collins

Johan’s No-No Keeps Collins on Edge

Whenever a pitcher for the New York Mets throws a no-hitter, it’s inevitably vivisected in every conceivable fashion by the American sporting media.

Okay, so it’s happened all of once, now that Johan Santana turned the trick against St. Louis on Friday. The event’s rarity, especially within the context of the ballclub, put all the more pressure on manager Terry Collins, who faced some tough decisions. One of them centered on the unwritten rule that says not to change anything during a no-hitters. Not the defensive alignment behind the pitcher, not the seating order on the bench. Not anything.

Because this piece of Code is based almost entirely on superstition, logic doesn’t play much of a factor. In Collins’ case, however, he had a pair of very real considerations as the game reached the late innings. On one hand, Santana was coming as close to the deed as anyone in the 8,019-game history of the organization. On the other, the left-hander was pushing the upper limits of his pitch-count threshold (which Collins had listed at 115 prior to the game). Santana missed all of last season following shoulder surgery, and had never topped 125 pitches in a game in his career, even when fully healthy. This wasn’t a superstitious decision for Collins, but a tactical one.

When Santana hit 115 pitches in the eighth while walking Rafael Furcal, Collins visited him on the mound. Ultimately, of course, the manager opted against change, and left his star in to determine his own fate.

“I just couldn’t take him out,” Collins said in Newsday. “I just couldn’t do it.”

Ultimately, of course, Santana finished the game—in 134 pitches—and New York rejoiced. “To a man, we all agreed that he’d have to rip the ball out of our hands,” pitcher R.A. Dickey told Newsday.

“I went against just about everything I stand for, and that’s taking a chance to hurt your whole ballclub for the next four months for an instant decision of glory in one inning,” Collins said in an MLB.com report. “Is it worth it? I believe in the organization and I believe in the team, and I’m not here to destroy any of it. . . . . If this guy goes down, it would be pretty drastic for us. But also to understand there’s history in the making and in the moment, in that particular moment, he wasn’t coming out. I wasn’t taking him out.”

Even if Code adherents applaud Collins for his lack of action when it came to pitching changes, there’s no getting around his seventh-inning breach of the unwritten rule that stipulates a no-hitter in progress must never be referenced out loud, directly or otherwise. That’s when he approached Santana in the dugout and, according to the pitcher, “told me that I was his hero.” Santana responded by telling his manager he would not be coming out of the game.

Were there a jinx, needless to say that it was ineffective.

Santana’s no-hitter left just one team remaining without a no-hitter in the books: the Padres. This is relevant, because San Diego might actually have had a no-hitter by now were it not for the fact that, unlike Collins, then-Padres manager Preston Gomez changed something during the course of Clay Kirby’s masterpiece in 1970: the pitcher himself.

It was the bottom of the eighth inning, and although Kirby was coasting, a first-inning walk, followed by two stolen bases and a fielder’s choice, left him with a 1-0 deficit. When he was scheduled to hit with two outs and nobody on, Gomez pulled him for pinch-hitter Cito Gaston, who promptly struck out to end the inning.

The other detail that ties Kirby to Santana’s no-hitter: His opponent was none other than the New York Mets—Bud Harrelson broke up the no-hitter as the first batter to face reliever Jack Baldschun. (In fact, according to Baseball Reference, 13 pitchers have tossed at least seven no-hit innings without being allowed to finish the game. One pitcher who doesn’t qualify is longtime Mets stalwart Sid Fernandez, who threw five no-hit frames against the Giants in 1987, but had to exit after injuring his hamstring while legging out a triple.)

Ultimately, all’s well that ends well—or at least it will if Santana suffers no lasting repercussions from his exertion. Even if he does, David Wright hit it squarely in his manager’s defense when he said, “I don’t think anybody had the courage to go and take the ball from him.”

Retaliation, Terry Collins

Brewers Denied Target Practice: Wright Pre-Emptively Pulled

David Wright gets riled in the dugout.

Because such thing exists as a pre-emptive strike, it goes to follow that its opposite must be pre-emptive strike avoidance. It’s a term not frequently utilized, especially in Major League Baseball, but it concisely sums up the strategy employed by Mets manager Terry Collins Tuesday at Citi Field.

That there was anything to avoid was courtesy of relief pitcher D.J. Carrasco, who, one pitch after a seventh-inning homer by Milwaukee’s Rickie Weeks extended the Brewers’ lead to 8-0, drilled Ryan Braun. Plate ump Gary Darling ejected the right-hander on the spot. (Watch it here.)

The first thing that crossed Collins’ mind appeared to be disbelief that Carrasco, the guy he was probably counting on to eat the game’s final three innings, was gone after only three batters. Shortly thereafter, the ramifications became clear: Braun was Milwaukee’s No. 3 hitter, and his counterpart on the Mets, David Wright, was due to lead off the bottom of the inning.

Factor in that Brewers starter Zach Greinke had to that point given up only four hits over six shutout innings; that the Mets would be lucky to avoid being shut out, let alone win the game; that Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has a bit of history when it comes to Code enforcement; that Wright has his own history when it comes to being hit by pitches; that there’s no player less dispensable to New York’s lineup than the .408-hitting Wright; and that if anybody was going to wear one for the sins of his team, it would clearly be the Mets’ third baseman.

Taking all that into consideration, Collins did what he felt prudent: He removed Wright.

Ryan Braun, and the pitch that started it all.

If Greinke had feelings about seeing pinch-hitter Jordany Valdespin instead of Wright, he kept them to largely to himself after the game, telling the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, “I don’t know what would have happened if [Wright] stayed in. They don’t want anyone important to get hurt, just like we don’t want someone important getting hurt.”

Wright, however, was clearly agitated, shouting at Collins in the dugout before turning on his heel and stalking away from the manager. (Watch it here.) Two batters later, Collins removed David Murphy for precisely the same reason.

“In my opinion, why I took him out of the game, he wasn’t getting hurt,” Collins said in a Newsday report. “I’m not accusing anybody for the possibility of retaliation. But I don’t blame the umpires for doing what they do. I don’t blame the other team for any perception they had of what happened, but I’ve got news for you: In this game there are unwritten rules. And one of the unwritten rules, is you hit my guy, I’m hitting your guy. They are not hitting my guy tonight. I’m not exposing him to being hit.”

“Terry’s the manager and I try to go to battle for Terry every day . . .” said Wright, who added that his response looked worse than it actually was. “Whether I agree or disagree with it, he’s got to make the move he thinks is best for the team, and he obviously did that . . . I respect him. I love playing for him.”

Carrasco issued a standard denial, and Braun claimed to have no feelings one way or the other about his opponent’s intent.

As a guy with eight seasons as a big league manager and 10 years of minor league playing time under his belt, Collins probably understands the game’s unwritten rules pretty well. In this instance, however, he may have been upstaged by Wright, when the third baseman told him in the dugout, “If anybody gets hit, I want it to be me.”

“My thinking at the time was, Ryan gets hit and then I go up there and get hit and then everything is settled,” Wright said in a MLB.com report.

In that, he was exactly correct. If it wasn’t the series’ final game, or if the teams’ next scheduled meeting wasn’t four months away, or if Wright was anything but a target of circumstance—were he drilled, it would have been because of where he hit in the lineup, not anything he did on the field—he would have had an air-tight case. Waiting a day to respond to an incident like this is hardly rogue strategy, but Roenicke and his team would have to be harboring a pretty serious grudge to put a target on Wright when they next see him in September.

It will all probably pass without incident, but that may have happened anyway. One thing Collins has assured, however, is that the Mets now have 16 weeks to consider the possibilities before actually seeing the results of this particular experiment.

Update (5/17): The principals have spoken, and the matter has been “handled.”