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Which ending was weirder: Game 3 or Game 4?

Oct 28, 2013, 1:13 PM EDT

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Three Getty Images

We sports fans will argue about anything. ANYTHING. Everyone knows that. We will not only argue about who the American League MVP should be, we will argue about the Dolphins’ new helmet (old one better), we will argue about Frank Caliendo’s best impression (Morgan Freeman), we will argue about the strongest arm in the NFL (Joe Flacco usually wins the day, but after Sunday night I’m more convinced that it’s actually Aaron Rodgers), we will argue about what horrible thing should happen to the Jeremy family in the T-Mobile commercials (stranded on desert island without power).

In many ways, we sports fans are like the parents in Woody Allen’s classic “Radio Days.”

Narrator: And then there were my father and mother … two people who could find an argument in any subject.
Father: Wait a minute. Are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?
Mother: No, have it your way. The Pacific is great.

When Sunday’s World Series Game 4 ended, I reflexively tweeted* that, in a way, the finish was even weirder than the already classic obstruction call that ended Game 3.

*New JoeWord: Twex, verb, to tweet something instantly, emotionally and with almost instant regret. Can also be used as a noun.

Several people almost instantly responded with a simple response: No way. And also: You are crazy. And I got a few emails that said: No way. And also: You are crazy. And then a friend of mine wanted to argue that there is NO WAY that Kolen Wong getting picked off to end Game 4 could be weirder than the whole Allen-Craig-Will-Middlebrooks-Jim-Joyce obstruction party that ended Game 3. He too mentioned that I was crazy.

Wait a minute. Are you telling me you think the Atlantic is a greater ocean than the Pacific?

Of course, it doesn’t matter — they’re both weird. They’re both unprecedented (no World Series had ever ended either way). They’re both keyed around colossal blunders that you would not expect Major League Baseball players to make. There’s a bit of controversy in the obstruction, I suppose, while I have not heard anyone say the umpire missed the call on Wong. It doesn’t really seem a subject worth arguing about.

So let’s argue about it anyway.

The thing about the obstruction call is that the only weird part WAS the obstruction. The rest of it was just good and bad baseball. St. Louis’ Jon Jay hit a ground ball that Boston’s Dustin Pedroia stabbed and threw home in time to get the runner. Good baseball. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia then launched the ball somewhere toward third base in an utterly misguided effort to get a runner that was already there. Bad baseball. If third baseman Will Middlebrooks and runner Allen Craig don’t get tied up, Craig scores, the game’s over and nothing especially crazy happened. But they did get tied up, then the outfield throw beat Craig to the plate, and Jim Joyce called obstruction. Weird. No doubt.

But think now about Sunday night’s game. In the ninth inning, the Red Sox led the game by two runs. With one out, that man Allen Craig singleed off closer Koji Uehara and limped to first base. It would have been a double for just about anyone with two functional legs. Uehara is almost unhittable, except by Allen Craig — he must have some Kojinite or something. Anyway, Craig was replaced a pinch runner by Kolen Wong, a 23-year old rookie who was born in Hawaii. Wong had been in the big leagues long enough to get 62 plate appearances — he hit .153/.194/.169, so that wasn’t why he was on the World Series roster. He was there to pinch-run and play some late-inning defense.

Wong did not represent the tying run, of course, so he did not figure to be an important part of the story. The Cardinals were sending up two of their best hitters — Matt Carpenter and Carlos Beltran — so the focus was on home plate. Uehara had the lowest WHIP in baseball history (for pitchers with 50-plus innings pitched). Carpenter had a legitimate MVP season. Beltran has an amazing postseason history. This was going to be good.

But something really weird was happening in the background. The Red Sox were holding Wong on at first. This was hard to figure. It might have made just a little bit of sense when Matt Carpenter was hitting because there was only one out and pinning Wong at first base kept the double play in order. But let’s be real here: In that situation, almost any other team would concede the double play rather than give up the giant hole on the left side of the infield with a talented left-handed hitter like Matt Carpenter up there. Red Sox manager John Farrell has proven that he dances to his own tune. Anyway, when Carpenter hit an infield pop-up for the second out of the inning that double-play reason was gone.

And still the Red Sox held on Kolten Wong at first base — even with dead-pull hitter Carlos Beltran up next.

Everyone, these days, seems to be talking a lot about the difference between process and results. The discussion is based around the superficially simple idea that you really want to focus on how you do things rather than how they turn out. This can be frustrating, though. Sometimes, a thing done well ends up badly. You might leave an hour early for an important meeting, buy your client’s favorite coffee on the way, then have someone carelessly sideswipe your car, delaying you so long that you show up late with the coffee cold enough to make the client spit it out. You lose the contract. You get demoted. The process was right — leaving an hour early, buying the coffee. But the result was bad.

And, just as frustrating, you might do things COMPLETELY wrong and have them turn out well. You might leave 20 minutes late for that same meeting, catch every light, have the client and your boss stuck in traffic, and have a friendly co-worker give you the client’s favorite coffee at the last possible second, which wins you the contract.

The temptation, of course, is to judge things by the results — and we usually do. The boss in the first scenario might be angry enough to demote you and to give you a giant raise in the second. In reality, the first process is much better than the second and should work much more often. But it’s hard to judge things that way. You wouldn’t give the first guy a raise for losing the client. You would demote the second guy for winning the contract. This is luck. This is randomness. This is life.

The process of holding on Kolen Wong on first base seems to me hopelessly flawed. It seems exponentially more likely that Carlos Beltran would whack a hit through the gaping hole in the infield than anything good happening because you held the runner.

But … the result was shockingly good for Boston. Wong blundered in a way that, sadly, will always attach itself to his name. He learned a bit and Uehara unexpectedly threw to first. Wong’s right foot slipped a bit as he tried to dive back to the bag, and he was out. You can give a million reasons why Wong should not have been picked off. His run wasn’t the important one. There was no need for him to get to second base. His sole purpose out there was to make sure Carlos Beltran got his chance at the plate.

But reasons don’t matter here — nobody was more aware of the situation than Wong. He made a combo physical/mental mistake — a mesical mistake — and he was out.

And I would put that whole series of events — the fact that the Red Sox held on Wong in the first place, the fact that Uehara actually threw over there, the fact that Wong would do the one thing he was out there not to do — as being an even weirder series of events than the Saturday night craziness.

In percentage form, I would put it like this:

Game 3 ending:

Percent chance that Salty would throw the ball (and throw it away): 2%
Percent chance that Middlebrooks and Craig would tangle up: 1%
Percent chance that umpire would call interference: 60%

Total percentage: .012% (1 in 8,333)

Game 4 ending:
Percent chance that the Red Sox would hold on Wong: 5%
Percent chance that Uehara would throw over: 20%
Percent chance that Wong would get picked off: 1%

Total percentage: .01% (1 in 10,000).

So the Game 4 ending was inarguably weirder.*

*These percentages have been verified by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers or someone like them and therefore cannot be argued with, rescinded, not even questioned. Also, the Pacific Ocean is better than the Atlantic.

  1. Caught Looking - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:22 PM

    Forget statistics and probabilities. Game 3 was definitely weirder as the call was based on an umpire’s judgement moreso than getting picked off.

    • kruegere - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:34 PM

      This article
      __________
      Your head.

  2. rbj1 - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:30 PM

    Three was weirder. I’ve seen guys get picked off before. This is maybe the second time in about 30+ years of watching baseball games that I’ve seen an obstruction call.

  3. rickdobrydney - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    Posnanski is nothing if not long-winded. He is in need of a good editor.

    • cohnjusack - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      Maybe something a bit more simplistic may be up your alley:

      http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjkiebus/12-reasons-david-ortiz-should-be-bostons-next-mayor

      Also, there are a lot of cute pictures of cats wear cute outfits.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:55 PM

      Just stop after the first 140 characters. You’ll get the gist of it.

    • asimonetti88 - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:50 PM

      Yeah who wants to have to do any critical thinking or anything like that. Might pull a muscle or something.

  4. temporarilyexiled - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:39 PM

    Game 5 ends when a runner is called out for running into the ball after it bounces off the Green Monster.

    And then you factor in that Game 5 is still in St. Louis…

    • kevinbnyc - Oct 28, 2013 at 6:07 PM

      Fan interference call for one of the BFiB grabbing a ball that’s in play.

  5. pastabelly - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:46 PM

    Even without the obstruction, which was in itself a very strange way to end the game, the decision by Salty to make a risky throw to third when they had Kozma coming up to face Koji is an ultimate head scratcher. You have to wonder if that braindead thinking, along with a tremendous slump (and Ross’ just calling a good game) to factor in Salty’s benching.

    • CJ - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:36 PM

      you have to wonder about that? really? Let me help you with that: heck yes.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:59 PM

      I realize this isn’t really the time or the place, but I’ve been thinking about this, and I can’t find the right place.

      Salty and Drew have lots tens of millions on dollars (on their next contract) in these playoffs.

      • pastabelly - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:51 PM

        I thought Drew was going to sign a sweet deal with the Yankees or the Sox would send him a qualfying offer for $14 million. I doubt either is likely now.

        Salty had a very good year and Ross is not young and catchers are hard to find. I think Salty will still get a very good offer from the Sox, but agree that he has cost himself some $millions.

      • Reflex - Oct 28, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        Doubtful. Most teams understand small sample sizes. If a couple of teams underbid others will take advantage.

    • cur68 - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:20 PM

      Lets not forget Our Boy Jon Jay in game 2. He was half way to 3rd on a weak fly to left. He was doubled off at 2nd ALL DAY if Gomes had but glanced at him. Gomes threw home. Missing a perfect chance to double off Jay, create the 3rd out, and end the game. Upshot if Gomes plays some heads-up ball? Red Sox the winners, right there, done, dusted and polished to a high shine. Result of Gomes throwing like a nincompoop to home? 2 errors. Red Sox lose as Dog Knows What Salty’s doing trying to field that ball and Breslow then does Dog Knows What trying to get Mr. Late To The Party, Jon Jay as he attempts to make it to 3rd.

      But never mind that. Instead we have game 3 and Dog Knows What Salty’s doing throwing like a Nincompoop to 3rd. There is no obstruction if he makes that easy throw to Middlebrooks. Might even have got Craig. Hey, he could have just held the ball. The game continues. The Sox still have a chance. Instead? We get the Ole “WTF, Salty? WTF!”

      Then last night happened. And KolTEN* Wong.

      Sigh

      *(take note there, Mr. Posnanski: “KolTEN” not “KoLEN“. One’s a guy picked off 1st in the bottom of the 9th the other’s my five year old niece attempting to spell “alimentary canal”. There be a difference).

      Poor Kolten Wong. He’s hung out to dry by a Wily Ole Veteran. WHY were they holding him on? Dunno. Maybe Uehara could tell he had that kid nailed. He saw how big that lead was & he’s no closer. He’s a starter CONVERTED to a closer. And, as a starter, he has a GREAT throw to 1st . . . well . . . I dunno if he does have that good a move to 1st. That might be hyperbole. I do know that he’s gonna have a better move than most closers, though. This Uehara knows and this not many other people seem to know. Why pitch to Carlos “I KEEL You!!!” Beltran when you might be able to get Kolten “OOOPS!” Wong?

      Of course he got him. Could it be any other way?

      And that, you see, is why the dynamic of Salty/Middlebrooks/Craig is more weird. I can see what Uehara might have been up to. He felt he could get Wong and he, not being a foo, reckoned it was better to try for Wong than risk Beltran any sooner than needed.

      But, Salty throwing into the runner forcing the obstruction? That’s “WTF” ALL DAMN DAY.

      • nbjays - Oct 28, 2013 at 11:24 PM

        First off, congrats on writing a post almost as long as the original article. And considering it was a Joe Posnanski article (albeit a shortish one), that takes some doing. Reading all those drafty posts by Old Gator must’ve rubbed off on you.

        Second, both games 2 and 3 proved the old baseball adage – don’t throw the ball into left field when the other team has the winning run on third or BAD THINGS will happen.

        Third, I hear you moved from the frozen wilds of Edmonchuk to Quebec Sud (AKA Florida). Congrats. I’ll have to look you up when I come down for a Spring Training pilgrimage one of these years.

      • infectorman - Oct 29, 2013 at 1:21 PM

        to support the “old adage” posted by nbjays, I have coached little league and Babe Ruth Baseball for a collective 11 seasons over the last 8 (2 sons), and The Red Sox looked an awful lot like my last year minors and first year majors, who tend to try and throw a runner out at third when he’s 2 strides from sliding in safely. It’s called the nuances of the game I tell them, knowing what to do when the ball comes to you and equally important, what NOT to do.

        To see the same Sh*tBum play (twice) by the beloved old town team was jaw-droppingly shocking.
        Salty/Bres/MiddlingBrooks must be thanking their Locker room voodoo Gods stars for Lester and Papi, otherwise they could very well go down in the Bill Buck side of the Red Sox Historical (Hysterical) Ledger.

  6. Jay Seaver - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Joe mentions that “any other team would have conceded 2nd base to Wong”, but I think one of the under-reported things about this Red Sox team is that they really don’t concede anything. Sure, folks mention that they work counts, don’t bunt and don’t issue IBBs, but the attitude goes beyond that: Victorino tries to make 9-3 putouts. Pedroia would rather get the out at home than make the standard double play. It doesn’t quite match the laid-back bearded goofball narrative, but the team philosophy seems to stress not letting the other team have outs, baserunners, etc. to a maniacal degree.

    So, no, I don’t think it’s that surprising that they held Wong on when other teams wouldn’t; they’re not letting the Cardinals have that extra base. Of course, the flip side is probably Saltalamacchia’s errant throws to third; he sees the chance for one more out and greedily goes after it. For the most part, though, they have done pretty well in not giving an inch even when more prudent teams would.

    • gibbyfan - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:19 PM

      I’ll say one thing–not sure which was weider but getting picked off was more bone headed than making the throw to third………..The throw was a split second reflexive decision…….getting picked off allowed a suitabloe period to weigh the circumstances/situation and making the number one priority not lettting it happen……the throw was excusable……….the pick off in this case (not trying to steal and all the rest) was not.

    • Joe - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:15 PM

      “I think one of the under-reported things about this Red Sox team is that they really don’t concede anything.”

      Sure, but in doing so Napoli was in a position where he could cover a lot less fair ground. The risk is that they would concede a hit on a ball that Napoli would have fielded in normal position. And since allowing a second baserunner is far more damaging to the Red Sox than allowing Wong to advance a base, it’s kind of a crazy decision. It’s like shooing a seagull away from your French fries while leaving your lobster roll unguarded.

  7. raysfan1 - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:15 PM

    Just remember that rightness and craziness are not mutually exclusive. Thus, it is quite possible that game 4’s ending was indeed the stranger one, and you’re still crazy!

  8. bh192012 - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:23 PM

    The problem is that the author is forced to say “Saturday night craziness.” Nobody is saying “Sunday night craziness.” At most they’re saying “Sunday nights bad baserunning.” Nobody was left confused or arguing about the play at the end of Sunday’s game. This article sounds like a guy trying to play devils advocate because otherwise there is no article. There is no argument (unless you invent one,) Saturday was crazier.

    • Joe - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      What he’s saying is that the decision-making on Boston’s part, though subtle, was pretty weird if you get right down to it. Not the play itself.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:15 PM

      Why isn’t Koji getting credit for a terrific throw? Why does everything have to be viewed through the lens of negativity?

      • cur68 - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:26 PM

        THERE. Uehara’s a converted starter. He is going to have a better pick off move than most closers. And he did. That’s not weird at all.

  9. nfieldr - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:45 PM

    It’s got to be the obstruction call. Ignoring that these plays ended a World Series game, if you just look at the plays themselves, how ofter do you see each particular play? I can’t remember the last time that I saw obstruction called, but pickoffs seem to be fairly common.

  10. Marty - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:06 PM

    I think its less that fans like to argue than it is sports media likes to troll.

    Game 3 by a longshot.

    • 18thstreet - Oct 28, 2013 at 3:16 PM

      I disagree. /s

  11. kevinbnyc - Oct 28, 2013 at 6:09 PM

    Seriously. Who can resist the cool blue-green waters of the Pacific??

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