September 2, 2014

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Dan Coughlin: Baseball’s a cruel game, just ask the Indians

This Indians season has taught us a terrible truth. Baseball is the cruelest sport of all. It has contempt for fairness. No good deed goes unpunished. Baseball rewards the bad hop and penalizes the line drive.
The anguish is particularly painful because baseball is such an individual and personal game. The box score, for instance, one of the most dispassionate statistical tables ever invented, actually notes one pitcher as the winner and another pitcher as the loser, as though they were singularly responsible.
Indians’ pitchers Fausto Carmona and C. C. Sabathia should be 1 and 1a for the Cy Young Award. They’ve been pitching their rear ends off, allowing none, one and two runs per start.
Instead, baseball is laughing at them. Look at the series in Detroit earlier this week when two great performances went unrewarded and a sloppy, pedestrian performance wound up with a win.
Tuesday night Carmona pitched an eight-inning two-hitter but lost, 2-0, when the Indians got only one hit off a kid just called up from the minors.
Wednesday night Paul Byrd got knocked all around Comerica Park, but the Indians treated Detroit’s ace, Justin Verlander, worse. The Indians scored 11 runs and held on for an 11-8 victory, Byrd’s 12th win.
Thursday afternoon Jake Westbrook, who’s been pitching brilliantly recently, hurled an eight-inning shutout but didn’t get the win. The Indians didn’t score either until the 10th inning and the Tribe won, 3-1. Westbrook threw 104 pitches while allowing five hits and two walks. The victory went to Rafael Perez who faced one batter and struck him out on six pitches.
That’s baseball. That’s injustice. That’s the story of the Indians’ pitching staff this summer.
You break your bat on a nasty slider and hit a blooper that falls in for a single. “It will look like a line drive in the box score,” they say.
Travis Hafner hits a bullet to right field that’s a single for anybody else, but not for Hafner. Everybody uses a wacky defense against him with the second baseman stationed in short right field, and he catches Hafner’s line drive. In the box score it looks no different from a called third strike.
You’ve seen 40-foot singles and 400-foot outs. Baseball will break your heart. It will bring strong men to their knees.
Many of my friends are old, like me, and we remember the greatest injustice of them all — the 1954 World Series. The Indians set an American League record that season with 111 victories, 14 more wins than the New York Giants, but the Giants swept the Indians in the World Series, four games to none.
The Series opened in the Polo Grounds in Manhattan, which had some of the weirdest dimensions of any ballpark in the history of the game. The first game was tied, 2-2, and the Indians had two runners on base when Tribe first baseman Vic Wertz unloaded a terrific drive to the deepest part of the ballpark, which New York centerfielder Willie Mays caught over his shoulder with his back to the plate some 460 feet from home plate. It’s still replayed occasionally on television and is considered the greatest catch in World Series history.
The Giants won the game,
5-2, in the last of the 10th on a three-run homer by pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes. He hit it 290 feet down the right field line.
Rhodes, who was a benchwarmer, hit his walk-off homer off Hall of Famer Bob Lemon.
If the Series had opened in Cleveland, Wertz’s blast would have been a three-run homer and Rhodes never would have gotten in the game.
The next day Rhodes came off the bench again to tie the game with a pinch hit single off Early Wynn, another Hall of Famer, and he hit a home run for an insurance run later.
After conspiring with the baseball gods to break the hearts of Clevelanders, Rhodes never did anything notable again.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say Dusty is up there doing it to us again.
Dan Coughlin is a sports columnist for The Chronicle
and a sportscaster for TV-8. Contact him at 329-7135 or ctsports@chroniclet.com.