YOU’D THINK I’d learn. As someone who has been going to professional baseball games for more than 54 summers, I’ve seen enough that this axiom should not surprise me: There is no momentum in baseball.
Although teams play games nearly every day of the major-league 162-game regular-season schedule — sometimes two games on the same day — I’ve gone to hundreds and games and listened or watched thousands more and still don’t get it.
How many times does a team drop an emotionally-draining contest and come out the next day and wipe up the same opponent? How about those times that a team scores double-digit runs, then gets shut out in the next game?
It happens frequently. So why are we surprised when it happens?
Take the Milwaukee Brewers, watching their 2014 season slip through their fingers at a painstakingly consistent pace.
After splitting two games against the Cardinals last week, the Brewers clung to a 2-0 lead in the 8th inning of the rubber match.
With one out and a runner at first base St. Louis batter A. J. Pierzynski smacked a sharp grounder to Milwaukee’s Mark Reynolds, who stepped on first base instead of throwing to second to start a potential double play. The Cardinals went on to tie the game on two walks and two singles (one where Matt Holliday was initially called out, but was ruled safe upon review).
Tied after nine frames, Milwaukee had runners in scoring position in the 10th, 11th, and 12th innings, but it was three straight hits by the Cardinals in the 13th that ended the game where the Brewers had used every player of their expanded roster except an emergency catcher.
So while the Pirates were sound asleep, the Brewers got to Pittsburgh around 4 a.m.
So you’d expected the well-rested Bucs to roll past the slumping Brewers. But Milwaukee starter Yovani Gallardo was outstanding, blanking the Pirates over seven innings, while the Brewers had scored twice. But Russell Martin’s three-run home run off Jonathan Broxton in the eighth sent the Pirates to a 4-2 win and erased everything.
Again, before Saturday night’s game, you almost felt sorry for the upcoming Milwaukee loss that could be stopped only by a rainout.
The Brewers had suffered a second straight crushing loss for a team that on August 31 was celebrating 150 straight days atop the National League Central. But the Brewers had collapsed by dropping 20 of 28 games, while the Pirates had won 12 of 14 games. With eight games left, the Brewers had fallen to third, seven games behind the Cardinals and five games out in the loss column for the NL’s second wild card.
But the game was scoreless going to the ninth innings as the Pirates’ top winner Edinson Volquez (12-7) pitched seven shutout innings and Tony Watson blanked the Brewers in the eighth.
But the downtrodden Brewers scratched out a run against closer Mark Melancon in the ninth and took home a 1-0 game.
Certainly as the Bucs enter the playoffs, the Bucs have a better record over the last three weeks of the season than anybody else.
So do they have momentum?
Forget about it.
ä Sweetness: Was there anything sweeter in the Pirates final regular-season game at PNC Park than seeing Andrew McCutchen score the only run in the game?
Yes — seeing Carlos Gomez, the game’s biggest hot dog since Willie Montanez (Ask your grandpa), get trapped off second base in the ninth inning. And watching McCutchen squeeze the game’s final batted ball — off the bat of Ryan Braun.
Good Guys Don’t Always Finish Last: In less than 180 at-bats for the Colorado Rockies, former Pirates fan favorite Michael McKenry has batted .325 with a .412 on-base percentage. He’s also thrown out 21 percent of would-be base stealers. McKenry is eligible for arbitration for the first time and should see a nice raise.
Speaking of Raising, get that Jolly Rodger ready….
Let’s Go, Bucs on Wild Card Wednesday!
Jim Sankey is a baseball columnist for The Allied News.