Baseball, known as the sport that does not have a clock, finished just in a nick of time. Imagine if the Los Angeles Dodgers had not won Game 6 of the World Series. All of Wednesday would have been spent debating whether baseball should even play Game 7 after LA third baseman Justin Turner tested positive for COVID-19 and was removed from the game in the eighth inning.
What a fitting end to baseball’s COVID-19 season.
Despite playing the shortest regular season in history, the Dodgers are definitely a deserving champion after finishing with the best record during the 60-game regular season and then going 13-5 in the longest postseason in baseball history.
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Blake Snell’s Game 6 exit creates flashback to 1993
Neither analytics nor Twitter existed in 1993, but managerial moves in the World Series were still closely scrutinized and harshly criticized. One of the most infamous moves in Phillies history, of course, was made during Game 6 of the 1993 World Series between the Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays.
After the Phillies had batted around plus one and turned a 5-1 deficit into a 6-5 lead in the seventh inning, manager Jim Fregosi had to figure out how to get the final nine outs. Roger Mason, acquired from San Diego the day after the Phillies played a doubleheader until 4:40 a.m. against the Padres, had recorded the final three outs of the sixth in relief of Terry Mulholland, and he followed up by retiring the side in order in the seventh.
Mason also retired Joe Carter on a deep fly ball to left field to start the bottom of the eighth inning, At that point, he had pitched 10 2/3 innings in the Phillies’ 12 postseason games and allowed just a single run on five hits. Fregosi decided it was time for a pitching change and called on David West, who walked John Olerud before giving way to Larry Andersen. The Phillies escaped the eighth when Andersen retired Pat Borders with the bases loaded, and that left Mitch Williams to pitch the ninth.
We will spare you the details of the Joe Carter ending, but will remind you that Fregosi was ferociously criticized for taking out Mason and turning to Williams.
“You do exactly what I did all year,” Fregosi said. “Andersen and West to pitch the seventh and eighth and Mitch to save the game. Tommy Greene? I was not going to use him in a situation where he hadn’t been used before. Roger Mason is a two-inning pitcher. Do you think Mason could have pitched four?"
Mason had pitched three scoreless innings in a playoff outing against Atlanta in 1992, but he had recorded more than seven outs only four times in 74 appearances during the 1993 season, so it wasn’t unreasonable for Fregosi to believe he would have been pressing his luck to let the right-hander face Olerud, who won the batting title that year with a .363 average. Still, Fregosi was bashed for weeks on talk radio.
Today, Kevin Cash knows how he must have felt because the Tampa Bay Rays manager became a World Series goat when he removed Blake Snell from Game 6 Tuesday night with a runner on first and one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Snell had thrown only 73 pitches and allowed two hits without a walk and struck out nine, but the analytics indicated it was time to make a change because the top of the Dodgers' formidable order was due up for a third time.
Six pitches after Snell’s exit and reliever Nick Anderson’s entrance into Game 6, the Dodgers had turned a 1-0 deficit into a 2-1 lead and were on their way to the franchise’s first World Series title since 1988. The passion for the Rays in Tampa Bay does not match the fervor for the Phillies around here or the Red Sox in Boston, but right now, Cash is the Bill Buckner of the baseball world.
“Blake Snell was throwing better tonight than anyone I’ve ever seen in the World Series,” Hall of Fame pitcher Jack Morris told Minneapolis Star-Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse. “These analytics guys we have now think numbers are more important than having an ace at his best on the hill.”
We will offer this defense of Cash: He managed a team with the 27th-ranked payroll in baseball to within two wins of a World Series title, and he did so by brilliantly using his bullpen all season. Snell, for the record, did not make it through the sixth inning in any of his previous 16 starts this season. And the analytics say he struggled both the second and third time he faced an order this season.
Hitters facing Snell for the first time in a game batted .140 with a .462 OPS. Hitters facing him a second time batted .307 with a .977 OPS. Hitters facing him a third time batted .304 with a .913 OPS. Even if Snell had made it through the sixth, Cash was going to need to get outs from his bullpen and the Rays were probably going to need more than one run.
I’d have tried to get more from both Roger Mason and Blake Snell. But I don’t know if anybody could have gotten more out of the 1993 Phillies than Jim Fregosi or the 2020 Tampa Bay Rays than Kevin Cash. It was only because those managers pushed so many right buttons that were never even documented that they had a chance to push a wrong one that will forever be remembered.
One week after the surprising news that Bryan Price would not return as pitching coach, the Phillies declined to renew the contract of bullpen coach Jim Gott, lengthening an already substantial to-do list this offseason.
With the season officially over, the Phillies have a lot of decisions ahead, including who is going to be in charge of making the critical off-field decisions. At the moment, Ned Rice is still the acting general manager and there does not seem to be a hot pursuit to find Matt Klentak’s full-time replacement.
Columnist David Murphy believes the Phillies need to hire baseball operations people from either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Tampa Bay Rays and, if need be, offer them the title of president.
From Justin Turner’s in-game COVID-19 revelation to Kevin Cash’s removal of Blake Snell, columnist Mike Sielski offered his take on the final game of the World Series.
The Phillies made some cuts to their pro scouting staff last week as they try to save money after a season without fans. Among the casualties were former third baseman Dave Hollins and former manager Pete Mackanin.
Monday: Finalists for BBWAA awards announced.
Nov. 9: Rookie of the Year award announced for each league, with the Phillies' Alec Bohm a candidate in the NL.
Nov. 10: Managers of the Year announced.
Nov. 11: Cy Young Awards announced.
Nov. 12: Most Valuable Player awards announced.
Stat of the day
Too bad the Dodgers did not get to play a full season because they may have entered the debate about the greatest team in baseball history. They finished with a 56-22 overall record, and to find a team that was better after 78 games, you have to go back to the 2001 Seattle Mariners. All general manager Pat Gillick’s team did that year after a 57-21 start was win 116 games, matching the all-time record set by the 1906 Chicago Cubs, who were 54-24 after 78 games. Neither the 2001 Mariners nor the 1906 Cubs won the World Series, however.
To find a team that was better than the 2020 Dodgers after 78 games and also won the World Series, you have to go back to the 1998 New York Yankees, who won 114 games after a 58-20 start. The 1927 Yankees, considered by many to be the best team in history, were also 56-22 after 78 games before finishing with a 110-44 record. The 1986 Mets, who won 108 games and the World Series, were 55-23 after 78 games.
Since 1900, only the 1907 Cubs (58-20), 1909 Pittsburgh Pirates (57-21), 1912 New York Giants (58-20), 1913 Philadelphia Athletics (57-21), 1928 Yankees (57-21), 1929 Athletics (57-21), 1998 Yankees (58-20) and 2001 Mariners (57-21) had better records than the 2020 Dodgers after 78 games.
It’s impossible to say how the Dodgers would have finished a 162-game season, but now that they have added a World Series title to their franchise-record eight straight division titles, they have earned the title of best team and best franchise in baseball.
From the mailbag
Question: I thought Didi Gregorius had a great season, but the Phillies have Bryson Stott waiting in the wings and they also need to re-sign catcher J.T. Realmuto. What they should do with Gregorius? — Joseph T., via email
Answer: Thanks for the great question and for reading Extra Innings, Joseph. Gregorius was everything the Phillies could hope for in 2020, but his situation is complicated, especially if the team decides to cut salary.
I doubt the Phillies will bring Stott to the big leagues for the start of the 2020 season, but they can continue to let him develop while playing Jean Segura at shortstop. If it were me, I’d start by making Gregorius the qualifying offer of $18.9 million and I’d be thrilled if he accepted because it would mean he is around for another season at just $4.9 million more than last season. If he doesn’t accept it, you consider the Segura option at shortstop and hope that Stott develops as quickly and effectively as Alec Bohm did this season.
I do not sign Gregorius to a deal longer than two years. The best-case scenario for the Phillies, in my opinion, is that he accepts the qualifying offer.