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Sad Kings of Desperate Baserunning: Pirates 6, Phillies 3

The Phillies ran into outs and scorching Bucco bats as they lost the last game of the season series against the Pirates on a wet summer night.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

[*Tip o’ the cap to the eminent blog mistress Liz Roscher for tonight’s title.]

A baseball game is a certain series of events. Each event begins the series, continues the series, or ends the series. Within that series, the events seem connected. Innings follow upon innings, outs upon outs, pitches upon pitches. From these connections arises a causal structure: a high fastball follows a curve to catch the batter looking down in the zone, a batter sits middle-in on the first-pitch because that’s what he saw in his previous at-bat, etc. But the game is hardly a closed causal series. How the events that make-up the series occur is hardly limited to the events of the game. Sometimes the how traces to a previous game, as when a pitcher beans a batter for admiring a home run the previous night; sometimes it traces to non-game events, as when a motivational speech rallies the team to batter a pitcher; and sometimes, the events are spontaneous, having no cause outside the event itself, as when Merkle failed to touch first on his would-be game-winning hit.

Tonight there is no story. There are no causes within or outside the game to tie the events together. There is no development from first inning to last, no crescendo, no climax. There are just spontaneous events, explicable but not narrational. They resist connection.

The first two events are almost copies of each other. The first two hits the Phillies managed against Pirates starter Chad Kuhl failed to score a run or leave a runner on base for the next hitter. In the second inning, Aaron Altherr crushed a screaming low linedrive over the leftfielder’s head, off the wall, directly back to Jose Osuna, who fired a bullet on the secondbase bag to easily cut down Altherr. Odubel Herrera immediately followed by blooping a ball near the line in shallow left, leaving Osuna a long run to pick it up. But Osuna reached it in plenty of time to nab Herrera trying to squeeze out a double. Herrera wasn’t even as close to second as Altherr.

Later, Altherr lines a ball into the left-centerfield gap, scoring Maikel Franco and Tommy Joseph to draw the game even at 3, and getting thrown out at second again by Osuna. This play is about as close as a play at second gets. The tag hits Altherr’s calf when he is a spike’s length from the bag. In a close game, Osuna’s three assists would have been a difference-maker. Altherr will get a modicum of revenge by drilling Josh Bell in the spine after he breaks the tie with a double.

These plays rhyme in a certain way but they defy a developmental structure. The Phillies did not learn not to challenge Osuna. The picture of each hit looked like a double but each was not. The runners saw the form of a play they’d seen in countless events throughout their lives but these events were different. They expected a slower throw, a hurried throw, a more offline throw. Osuna defeated their expectations.

Osuna’s three outfield assists were not the most spontaneous events in the game. Instead, it was an aborted assist leading to a singular run scored. In the third, Andrew Knapp led off firstbase with Andres Blanco at the plate. Kuhl delivered an inside fastball that Blanco waved at, letting his lumber loose on the backswing and launching it into the stands. While Josh Bell and Andrew Knapp watched the bat arc into the empty seats behind the Phillies dugout, Elias Diaz cocked his arm and beamed a perfect throw to the firstbase bag where no one stood. It looked like this:

The ball would wander to the rightfield corner and Knapp would come around to score without a play at the plate. The score was 1-0 Phillies at the time.

Jeremy Hellickson pitched the same game he pitched his last time out. The Pirates attacked him early in counts. As long as he stayed on the edges he was fine. But then in the fourth inning he threw a couple pitches directly over the heart of the plate and gave up 3 runs on 2 dingers. His 6 innings were good enough for a quality start and no loss on the day, although he left losing 3-1. Aside from a nice looking curveball, his night was unremarkable.

The loss is reserved for Joaquin Benoit. Benoit faces the middle and bottom of the Pirates order and mixes two strikeouts into a slew of hard hit singles and doubles that chase him from the inning before it ends. Just when Benoit looks reliable he reminds us not to lean on mud huts in monsoon season. Just after the Phillies had tied it, the Pirates took their largest lead of the game, 6-3.

The game trails off now. The Phillies fight hard but have little to fight with. Nevertheless, the game leaves us with self-contained mementos of lows and highs, like this one:

PS - The title makes me think of this: