You can if you want. Certainly in this year that’s causing even Satan to tug at his collar we need all the empathy we can get. But there’s something reassuring that karma can exist, when we’ve spent most of the recent past watching shitty people do shitty things and get away with it to the point where we’ve given up on clawing anything back. If you draw any satisfaction from seeing someone get theirs, I can’t say that’s wrong either.
The biggest reason the Astros are on the brink of being swept by the Rays in the ALCS is Jose Altuve’s inability to throw the ball six feet in the air. Yes, the Rays have caught everything, their bullpen is something Zach Snyder and Frank Miller would conceive, and their bats have gotten all the clutch hits whereas the Astros constantly have the announcer from NBA Jam screaming, “CAN’T BUY A BUCKET!” in their ears. But all of those would matter much less if Altuve had picked up the outs in Games 2 and 3 that he should have. Last night he bounced a throw to second (coming up short by about 10 feet) that would have been a sure force out and possible double-play. There are five or six runs the Rays have gotten in this series that they probably wouldn’t have had Altuve been able to complete the most routine of plays.
It’s clearly getting to him, and there’s been whispers of “The Thing” affecting his throwing that we saw either alter or end the careers of Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblauch, Rick Ankiel, and others.
So the debate on Twitter, before Malcolm Gladwell gets a hold of it and makes it distasteful for everyone, has been whether or not Altuve deserves your sympathy for being unable to complete the most basic of tasks of his job that has been second nature for most of his life.
I don’t like singling out Brandon McCarthy, who is a great Twitter follow and seems a pretty sharp and funny guy. But it’s the phrasing he’s using here that caught me:
McCarthy is invested more than just about anyone else. Not only is he a former player who can understand this kind of thing on a higher level than the populace, but he was also in the Dodgers’ dugout when the ’Stros 2017 asterisk tour was in full swing. He doesn’t have a ring because of the Astros skirting the rules. So perhaps he’s to be commended for showing such restraint and understanding.
And yet … suffocating. What was the feeling Clayton Kershaw had throwing 51 breaking balls, maybe the best breaking ball anyone in the league had at the time and in history, and getting exactly zero swings and misses? The greatest pitcher of this generation who might have to wear the chains of disappointment because he never brought a championship to the Dodgers. Did he feel like he couldn’t find enough air on the mound in Houston that night?
Yu Darvish left Texas for the first time, and was seen as the final piece in the Dodgers’ run at the 2017 deadline. He became an enemy of the entire city because he couldn’t find an out against the Astros that series, and it clearly ate at him afterwards. Did he feel smothered?
Aroldis Chapman … well, actually, fuck Aroldis Chapman forever.
Perhaps it’s not fair for Altuve to wear the karma all himself, but that’s how it goes sometimes. None of these players have had to wear anything. They all submarined their manager and GM and went on basically unscathed, other than wearing some fastballs in their ribs and wallets. Maybe Altuve’s .219 average this season when we know the garbage cans went unmolested and the buzzers definitely in the closet provides enough scrutiny.
Or maybe, with as much as the Astros have riding on this postseason as some sort of redemption tour, it’s suffocating them all now. After all, they didn’t really have the pressure, the true pressure, of that World Series, did they? They had some of it relieved through cheating.
Maybe it’s Rob Manfred’s fault that we just want to see anyone on the field pay in any way we can watch. Maybe it’s on Altuve’s teammates who have failed to show any contrition and most of the time have tried to play the victim or lash out at even being caught or asked about it. That piles onto the schadenfreude for Altuve now, too.
Altuve wouldn’t have been the first choice to wear it for the Astros. But he is the one who is. If you feel bad for him, that’s cool. If you’re giggling endlessly, that’s cool, too.
Apparently not all ex-pitchers are quite as forgiving either.
Another quirk of Game 3 of the ALCS was that the new three-batter rule came home to roost, this time on the Astros again.
After Atluve’s error left two on with no out instead of just a runner on first with one out, Dusty Baker knew the game hung in the balance. But he faced an impossible choice. The Rays’ lineup bounces back and forth from righty to lefty all the way through. He could bring in a lefty for Joey Wendle two batters down, but Yandy Diaz has generally murdered left-handed pitching and was up next. Baker opted for Enoli Parades, but that meant he would have to see Wendle too, after Diaz, and Wendle has thrashed right-handed pitching. There was nowhere to go. Wendle promptly singled to give the Rays the lead they wouldn’t relinquish and put the Astros in the coffin with the lid shutting.
In past years, Baker might have matched up all the way through that pivotal inning. He couldn’t last night. While the rule was put in place merely to try and speed things up, this was the effect some had envisioned.