Posted by: Peter | August 10, 2009

Away Game


[This one’s written from my hotel room in San Francisco. ]

I ditched a day of the conference I’m attending to go see a game, and I’m glad I did. I’ve only been to five other major league parks–the old New York parks, both Chicago parks, and the Metrodome–but I’d say the Giants’ park is superior to any of them.  (Wrigley Field would be in the running, except that it’s always full of Cubs fans.)

It’s a beautiful park, with a view of the bay. It’s well-designed; even the cheap seats feel close to the field.  The architectural details are charming without being corny. In a nice, if ludicrous, California touch, there’s a guy walking around in the stands selling Frappuccinos.  And unlike Hennepin County, San Francisco had the good sense not to put their stadium directly in the middle of downtown, choosing instead a fairly remote part of the waterfront.

This is the only place on Earth that accepts the truth about Barry Bonds: he's awesome.

This is the only place on Earth that accepts the truth about Barry Bonds: he's awesome.

The first time I went to this park was two years ago, and that game turned out to be kind of an archetype of the Giants as they were at that time. Barry Zito pitched a shutout, and the only scoring came from a Barry Bonds home run.

Today’s game wasn’t quite so elegant. The Giants lost 5-2, even though they really deserved the victory.  For one thing, the Reds put out one of the worst offensive lineups I’ve ever seen outside of September. Yes, Brandon Phillips has been good, and Joey Votto is genuinely excellent, but the rest of these guys were pathetic scrubs at best. When your 1-2 hitters are Willy Taveras (.236/.272/.283) and Alex Gonzalez (.198/.250/.286), something has gone terribly wrong with your team.

Despite that, Matt Cain was bad enough to dig himself into a 5-1 hole. And then, in the bottom of the 7th, the Reds loaded the bases with two outs, and the pitcher’s spot came up. Aaron Harang had already thrown nearly 100 pitches. A base hit would have more or less put the game away. So naturally, Dusty Baker let Harang hit, and he predictably made an out to end the inning. Harang then proceeded to come out and load the bases with nobody out, whereupon he had to be immediately yanked for a reliever anyway.

Baseball is a game of probabilities. Over the long run, good decisions will lead to good results the majority of the time, while bad decisions will fail a majority of the time. But in any given game, we only see one outcome out of the whole distribution of possible outcomes. Many times, bad decisions are punished, but many other times, they are not–and a fool lives on to mismanage another day.

Dusty Baker oughtta buy this guy a drink.

Dusty Baker oughtta buy this guy a drink.

In this case, Dusty Baker was bailed out by a Pablo Sandoval double play ball and a Bengie Molina fly out. But that doesn’t make his decision any less stupid. Had he pinch hit for Harang he might have put the game away. Instead, he let the Giants back into the game, and as a result Francisco Cordero came in for an easy and pointless save. But his team won. So because fate, or the laws of probability, were with Baker that day, no-one will remember how stupid his decision-making was. And he’ll go on making the same mistakes.


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