I was all set to write something about Vultures of Postseason past. We would have snow flakes, a winter wonderland, Christmas trees and our ghostly visitor would be a 30-something Mitch Williams to take us back a few decades. Because, if there’s ever some unpleasant experience in your baseball past to relive I can’t think of anyone more suited to present it than Mitch Freakin’ Williams, who went from Wild Thing to Vile Thing in one Joe Carter swing which they show at Rogers Centre. Every. Single. Time. I go there.
Actually it used to be worse. 2008 took the sting off of that one. But it’s kind of hard to let go when you’re erstwhile hosts rub your nose in it when you partake in a ball game in their park every now and then. Imagine if you get invited to a party where the host just absolutely needs to show off their high school highlight reel and their singular moment is your devastating moment and you have to sit there, grin and bear it while everyone else is cheering. It’s like Lucy, the football and Charlie Brown.
Well, we don’t get to ride the Mitch Williams’ Vultures of Shame taxi cab this week, because Aroldis Chapman happened. Oh well, we’ll just archive that other stuff for another week.
Last Saturday in game 1 of the NLCS, Mike Montgomery of the Cubs started the 8th inning charged with protecting a 3-1 lead. In an unconventional postseason where top closers are being used as early as the 5th inning, Joe Maddon – in some circles touted as an unconventional baseball manager – was very conventional in his bullpen use that night. At least initially.
Montgomery came in the 7th inning with two outs and a man on first. He struck out Joc Pederson to quell the threat, now here in the 8th he faced pinch hitter Andrew Toles. He singled to start the frame. That was it for Montgomery, in came Pedro Strop. You’d think that was supposed to be an improvement.
We can say that Montgomery at least got an out (albeit in the previous frame). Pedro walked Chase Utley, then Justin Turner singled to load up the bases with no outs. Before he could make a Fredi Gonzalez (or is it a Buck Showalter now?) Joe Maddon replaced his erstwhile reliever (who only brought relief when he gave up the ball to his manager) with his Top Man, Aroldis Chapman.
Oh man was Aroldis on fire that night. Facing some dangerous hitters he struck out Corey Seager as he went down in flames swinging. Then came Yasiel Puig who also crashed and burned swinging at home plate. Wrigley was going wild.
Then came Adrian Gonzalez. He’s been quite the thorn on the Cub’s hide lately. On a 1-1 count Gonzalez drilled one up through the middle (and nearly tore off Chapman’s head in the process) to center field allowing both Toles and Utley to score.
Wow. Wrigley just died right there. Bobbling the ball in the center field didn’t help. Notice Chapman’s reaction in the video, he visibly winced. Twice. First when he looked back and saw the ball was going to go through the infield and second when he saw there was absolutely no chance for a play at home. Turner reached third base on the play. To add insult to injury Gonzalez would steal second base.
Chapman didn’t melt like butter on a hot plate though. He pulled himself by his britches and induced a ground ball from Yasmani Grandal to stem the bleeding. Wrigley needed a few stitches after that dreadful 8th inning.
And they would get a shot in the arm thanks to Miguel Montero’s heroics. Let’s watch that one again shall we?
And against Joe Blanton, who has actually been surprisingly effective in middle relief this season. Why was he pitching the 8th inning? Probably because Jansen was still re-attaching his arm after that marathon outing against the Giants. Then again, it was a tie game and without a lead Roberts was gun shy of trying to ask a lot of his best arms just to keep the game close. I don’t know what the right call was there. Maybe bring in Dayton to face Montero? Or earlier when the go ahead run was in scoring position? Blanton would allow another home run and a double before Dayton finally came in to clean up the inning. Is it me or have the Dodgers shored up their roster with Phillies heroes of yesterday? (Utley, Ruiz, Blanton).
Hector Rondon, the Cub’s nominal closer on opening Day got in some work in the 9th. He allowed a run to score but it’s very hard to screw up a five run lead.
Overall there have been worse vultures in the past. Chapman nearly put out the fire. But hey, when you play with fire, sometimes you get burned and that’s what happened to Chapman when he got too close to it with little margin for error. Fortunately for him Montero had a tub of aloe vera for Chapman to sink into and sooth the pain.
The Dodgers would even the series by throwing in their best arms for game two. With nemesis Adrian Gonzalez providing the difference, the Dodgers rode Kershaw and Jansen to victory. Too bad those two can’t pitch every inning for the rest of the postseason. Roberts is going to need some alternate weapons if he’s going to move past the Cubs to the World Series.