Wow! It was like a project deadline as various pitchers were rushing to get their vultures in before the end of the season. I thought it was going to be a boring week because by the time the last two days of the season rolled in we had only one vulture.
Then the weekend rush came calling and four more vultures sneaked in before the end of the season.
September 29th, Seung Hwan Oh of the St. Louis Cardinals. This man is known by more than one name. The Final Boss. The Stone Buddha. Whatever you call him, any time he walks to the mound, terror follows…
Well I exaggerate. But his performance is not an exaggeration. He’s done very well to the tune of a 1.97 ERA. Nearly 80 innings and 100 strikeouts good for an 11.6 K9 rate and 2.13 FIP. He’s managed 19 saves in 23 opportunities, so he’s not invincible. Of those four times though this was the first one the Cardinals came back to win it for him (one blown save was actually a hold situation, not a save, and the Cardinals won that game but he wasn’t the winning pitcher of record).
The outing wasn’t terrible by any means. Oh came in the top of the 9th inning to nail down a 3-2 save opportunity over the Reds. Ramon Cabrera had other ideas when he hit a lead-off double. Lesser men might have caved in by this setback but not The Final Boss.
Jose Peraza struck out and Hernan Iribarren gounded out. This last one though was to second base so this allowed Cabrera to move to third. Scott Schebler nearly struck out as well and on a 1-2 pitch managed to squeak a ground ball to third for a single. Cabrera scored.
And the inning ended with another strikeout. Yeah Strikeouts are something that happens when Oh is on the mound.
The bottom of the ninth was the famous ground rule double that wasn’t. Yadier Molina drove in the run for the walk-off victory that wasn’t. In all fairness I happen to think the Reds would have been toast anyway. But it doesn’t excuse the failure of the replay system to address the problem. And Oh might not have gotten the victory either if the game had gone to extras (seeing as he was replaced for a Pinch Hitter).
October 1st, Tyler Thornburg of the Milwaukee Brewers. This man is starting to become a fixture around these parts. I have a fondness for pointing out that in order to Vulture often you have to be good or you would have been sent packing a long time ago. Blowing a game is not a guarantee for a Vulture. More likely than not you will need to blow several games before you even sniff a Vulture. But Tyler has been fortunate. If feels like every time he blows up the Brewers come back to win. It’s not true and it’s a coincidence but I may have to start calling Tyler “Rabbit Foot” if he keeps it up.
He’s another fascist-like pitcher with a 12.9 K9 rate. That’s something you can take to the puppy pound. It doesn’t mean he can’t get lit up when a pitch goes to the wrong location.
Per most of our recent vultures, this one turned on a 1 run lead in the 9th inning evaporating within just a few batters going to the plate. The Brewers were up 3-2 against the Rockies when Jordan Patterson singled to start the frame (It’s always bad for a pitcher to allow a lead-off base runner). Tyler managed to induce a ground out but the runner advanced. Then Patterson scampered for third on a wild pitch (it’s doubly bad for the pitcher to allow any kind of freebie like that). It didn’t matter much because Tom Murphy scorched one to left field for a double and a tie game.
At this point Tyler could have gone full meltdown. But he managed to cool the reactor a bit and strike out Pat Valaika. One intentional walk of Charlie Blackmon later and Tyler ended the threat with another strikeout, Daniel Descalso being the victim here. BTW that name translates as “Barefoot” in Spanish, so not a good strong last name here for Daniel. I’m pretty sure it has contributed to his lackluster baseball career to this point. A name change and some wrinkle cream around the eyes and I’m sure he’ll increase his OPS by 50-70 points.
The Brewers went to bat at the top of the 10th inning and Adam Ottovino struck out the side. Too bad Chris Carter sandwiched a home run in between those strike outs.
BTW Chris Carter led the NL with 41 home runs and just HOW the hell did we not notice that? Yeah, yeah Brewers fans knew but normally someone like that is in the conversation as a really good hitter. Thing is, the rest of Chris’s stat line is…not as impressive, .221 AVG, .321 OBP, 76BB and 206K. Yes he leads the NL in strikeouts as well as home runs. This guy is feast or famine.
In the bottom of the 10th Tyler was replaced with Jacob Barnes and he struck out two of three batters while allowing a single. But he sealed the Deal and Tyler augmented his “V” collection.
October 1st, Roberto Osuna of the Toronto Blue Jays. Osuna-Matata! He was on this list just last week! If Osuna is just practicing before the playoffs to polish his carrion eating ways he’s going to cause a lot of heart attacks in Canada this month.
Things went sideways when the Jays (fighting for playoff life) held a slim one run lead over the Boston Red Sox into the 8th inning (3-2, which is the theme this week). Jason Grilli faced Mookie Betts who doubled and Hanley Ramirez who walked. Grilli had only managed 2 strikes so far. Credit Gibbons for breaking convention and calling on Osuna for a 6 out save.
Facing Brock Holt he induced a ground out for a double play to erase a base runner. We went from man on first and second no outs to man on third and two outs. An obviously more manageable situation. Then the unthinkable happened.
Mookie Betts scored.
Jackie Bradley Jr. grounded out.
That has to hurt man. Especially when you’re fighting for the wild card. In the top of the 9th inning the Jays would regain the lead with small ball (Yep, Kevin Pillar bunted which I’m sure made at least one particular Canadian fan pop his gasket). It worked when a sacrifice fly plated the winning run.
Osuna went to work in the bottom of the 9th to clean up his own mistake by retiring the side in order without engaging in any more odd mound gymnastics other than those normally required when throwing a tiny sphere at 95+ MPH.
October 2nd, Alex Colome of the Tampa Bay Rays. He Came! He Saw! He faltered! He won anyway! Alex Colome is yet another strikeout machine joining the ranks of the birds of shame. He’s been outstanding with 56.2 innings pitched, 71 strikeouts for an 11.3K9 rate. That’s German Shepherd level right there. A working Dog.
A guess the sniffer wasn’t on point this day. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The closer came in to protect a one run lead in the 9th inning and blew it (this time 4-3, not 3-2). I have to say though, this looked like meltdown time.
Up one run against the Texas Rangers, Alex Colome allowed a lead off single to Jared Hoying. Robinson Chirinos hit a single moving Jared to third base. Hanser Alberto singled in the tying run. I know a certain nurse in Florida who probably started cursing like a sailor at this point in time.
Pop Quiz hot shot! Tie Game, bottom of the 9th. Man on 1st and 2nd, no outs. What do you do? What. Do. You. DO!?
Colome was unfazed. he cranked up the strike out machine. Rookie Nomar Mazara whiffed on strike three and sat down. Brett Nicholas was a little too anxious and flew out on a 1-0 pitch. Joey Gallo struck out to end the frame.
All told this could have been much worse; Mazara and Gallo are not snowflakes and Nicholas made the most of his September call up as third catcher with a .900 OPS in 45 PA (at 27 he’s not a prospect but he seems like good catching depth, possibly regular MLB backup? I digress).
In the 10th inning the Rays went to work with some damage of their own including a single and two doubles plating two runs. In the next frame Colome was not allowed to close it out and Ramirez came in to put down the Rangers in order and win the final game of the their season, 6-4.
Colome can now bask in the glory of holding the V like an Oscar trophy.
October 2nd, Tyler Thornburg of the Milwaukee Brewers. No, this isn’t a mistake. It’s not a typo. No copy-paste error here. Don’t touch the dial, don’t switch channels. This is the real deal. A back-to-back Vulture. Tyler Thornburg managed in two days what many pitchers can’t do all year. It takes a special kind of talent to achieve this (while pitching in Coors Field helps too).
Just like the day before Tyler had to protect a one run lead. It was 4-3 in the bottom of the 9th. And he was facing some of the same hitters to boot!
Nolan Arenado started the inning with a single. Carlos Gonzalez struck out because Tyler is a fascist strike out machine. Now Tom Murphy comes to the plate and I’m wondering if Murphy is doing some kind of voodoo in the batters box because for the second straight game Tyler uncorked a wild pitch with Tom Murphy at the plate. He struck out though so Tyler had a solid chance of getting out of this jam.
Jordan Patterson singled on the first offering bringing in Arenado and tying the game. To add insult to injury a throwing error by the catcher, Andrew Susac allowed Patterson to make it to third. Stephen Cardullo came in to pinch hit but he grounded out to end the inning.
While ultimately the error didn’t matter, Andrew Susac would nevertheless find redemption by hitting a bomb with a man on base in the top of the 10th regaining the lead for the Brewers. In the bottom of the frame Corey Knebel came in and sealed the 6-4 win with no more heroics required aside from dealing with two of the batters he faced doggie style: a pair of strike outs to put them down. (Corey has a 10.5 K9 right. That’s good for Doberman level).
So Tyler Thornburg ends the week with not one but TWO vultures. Not only that but previous to this pair of outings he already had THREE vultures on the season. For those counting at home that’s a grand total of FIVE vultures. The most I saw last year for a single pitcher was two! For comparison Phil Reagan in his hey day had managed at most to tally four in a single season.
Few pitchers can lay claim to accomplishing more than Reagan in a season. Naturally we should be clear that no pitcher goes out to the mound thinking: “Today is a good day to Vulture”. By and large vultures tend to be statistical anomalies and like the RBI requires a lot of team work to make it happen. But it’s very clear that the guys who snatch the Ws on a regular basis from their more deserving brethren tend to actually be quite good. Hey stuff happens. But Tyler is on a whole other level.
He tallied 8 blown saves on the season, and 5 vultures. In other words, more often than not, Tyler blowing a save meant he still had a better than even chance of winning the game. Naturally that’s just coincidence but it’s part of the curious stuff that makes up Baseball.
Statistical anomaly or not we still celebrate those achievements. It’s kind of like hitting for the cycle!
For managing to be so good and so bad at the same time, we bestow upon Tyler Thornburg and his five vultures this season’s…