Which ending was weirder

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.

68 thoughts on “Which ending was weirder

  1. troywestfield

    I read (possibly speculation) that the Sox had watched film on Wong and seen a tendency and that was why they picked him off. Which would mess with your percentages, if not your theory.

    Reply
      1. Cathead

        My concern is that one of Joe’s propensity to typos will have him unintentionally saying something he will regret in our p.c. world

        Reply
        1. Anon21

          Man, you must be a fairly aggrieved and obstreperous individual to have that be your concern. Even to have it be your ostensible concern says only poor things about you.

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        2. Bill Caffrey

          It’s probably happened, because everything has happened, but I am not aware of any instance in the history of the internet in which a writer got in hot water with the “PC police” purely because of a typo. People recognize typos for what they are…typos. But if they bother you that much, ask Joe for a refund. I’m sure he’ll give you your money back.

          Reply
          1. Richard Aronson

            I report most typos. I do so because I have seen typos appear on major web sites (SI.COM, for example) so even professionally edited content can have mistakes. I have also read and enjoyed books that were collections of columns by sportswriters and others. In my mind, there is a real possibility that someday Joe’s blogs will be compiled into a book, because he writes more than well enough for that.* By fixing the typos here, posterity is less likely to judge him harshly. As he is my favorite sports writer, I believe I am doing him a favor. Believe you me, I could spend the time on more profitable pursuits, such as elaborating the many valid arguments favoring the unappreciated Arctic Ocean.

            * In a recent Jibber Jabber between Conan O’Brien and Mel Brooks, Brooks tells why he left television for movies: movies create a legacy. In the same sense, books create much more of a legacy than blogs. So I feel I’m helping Joe with his legacy, in an amount much MUCH smaller than either of the percentage chances of the World Series game endines listed above multiplied by each other. But still greater than zero.

    1. RickyB

      Difference is that the Mickey Owens passed ball didn’t end the game. It merely allowed the inning to continue, of which the Yankees took full advantage.

      Reply
  2. Matt

    Game 3′s ending was just fluky things coming together. Being the last play of the game makes it stand out more. But Game 4′s ending was so comically bad. I mean Wong should have basically camped on the base itself. He’s not the run that matters, Beltran is. The only situation where he could have screwed up (other than the pick off) is having to stop at 2nd on a potential double by Beltran. Basically, if Beltran can get to 2nd on a hit, he needs to make sure he can get to 3rd. Wong made an error that not even high schoolers would have made.

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  3. Bill White

    Remembering Mrs. Robinson: “Laugh about it, shout about it, When you’ve got to choose,
    Every way you look at this you lose.”

    Reply
  4. Dave I

    I was reminded of Babe Ruth getting caught stealing to end the WS in 1926. Nothing really the same in terms of situation, but you just shake your head and think – “really?”

    Reply
    1. Richard Aronson

      Babe Ruth had over 100 steals in his career, and 11 in 1926. He may also have been the worst percentage base stealer (100 steals minimum) in history: 123:117. Ruth was always pushing the limits, and never seemed to consider repercussions of failure.

      Reply
  5. Joe

    “*These percentages have been verified by the accounting firm of PricewaterhouseCoopers or someone like them”

    Of course they were verified by the law firm of Babip, Pecota, Vorp &Eckstein.

    Reply
  6. ceolaf

    Thinking the Atlantic is greater than Pacific requires an all-too-common Eurocentrism. And a huge dose of stupidity.

    I can’t believe you are passing on this garbage. Such an argument is NOTHING like what sports fans argue about.

    And, obviously, mini-Ditka. Obviously.

    Reply
  7. Mark Daniel

    Brilliant managing by Farrell. And, obviously, Matt Matheny blundered this game away by not forcefully telling Wong not to get picked off. Idiot!

    Reply
    1. Lector

      A caught stealing ending a World Series game has happened 4 times: the one you mentioned, game 6 (1909), game 3 (1911) and game 5 (1936), so last night ending is inarguably weirder.

      Reply
  8. bellweather22

    I realize this didn’t end the game, but it did remind me of Herb Washington getting picked off by Mike Marshall in the 9th inning of the 1974 series. Also, it wasn’t dumb to throw to first. Since the run didn’t matter and especially with two outs, Uehara had what amounted to a free shot to throw over there. Throw it into the right field corner? No big deal. I do realize though that holding the runner made no sense, so from that perspective, there should have been no pickoff play.

    Reply
    1. Richard Aronson

      I was at the Herb Washingon pickoff game. Vin Scully was reverberating through Dodger Stadium (all those transistor radios; we had one that could pick up TV stations to listen when Scully was on TV but not radio). My seats were one row from the top of the top deck behind first base, and I could see Marshall’s smile from up there after the pickoff.

      Reply
  9. wordyduke

    A commenter on Hardball Times congratulated Uehara for his “great timing” in the pickoff move. It was all luck. Koji says he threw over just to disconcert Beltran (and, in effect, didn’t care if Wong was standing on the base). Who knew Uehara would just be finishing his secondary lead (weight on the wrong foot) and then slip when he needed to start back? Nobody.

    The way things had been going for them, the Red Sox were also lucky that, despite his great control, Uehara didn’t throw the ball past a startled Ortiz.

    Three great things about baseball. 1) A million things can happen, and in any game, you might see something you never saw before. 2) There are so many plays that, if you do enough things correctly, luck will be the residue of your design, and you get rewarded. (I.e., Uehara put his pickoff throw right where it should go, and Napoli was ready). 3) Joe writes about it, more regularly than we deserve.

    Reply
  10. Mark Harkins

    Something to think about… Where was the 3rd baseman fielding? Was he guarding the line? Again, not sure why the “no doubles” defense would be in order, but it’s possible that’s what they were thinking… Hold the runner AND guard the line.

    Reply
  11. Matt

    As a Sox fan, a key takeaway from Joe’s recent posts is that I no longer quite so great about the team’s future under Farrell as manager as I used to. To what extent has the Sox’s Cinderella season been because of Farrell, and to what extent despite him? Someone should do a curiously long post about the impact of a manager on a team’s success….

    Reply
  12. bellweather22

    It seems crazy, but managers make strange decisions all the time… they just get magnified and scrutinized in the World Series. Most times, in the regular season, the “house” announcers will decline to second guess the manager…. since they work for the team and don’t want the managers to look bad. But the same stuff happens a lot during the regular season. So, the latest with Farrell may not be worse than most managers…. just more visible. But often, the moves don’t turn out to do anything to impact the game, good or bad. Usually the game is impacted by a crucial hit, a double play, a wild pitch, an ill timed error or something far more standard…. despite the moves being made.

    Reply
  13. Matt Cramer

    Hi Joe — It’s “Kolten” Wong, not “Kolen.”

    100% serious: I’m a professional copyeditor. I’d be happy to read your stuff before it’s posted, gratis, since I’m going to read it right afterward anyway.

    Reply
  14. jim louis

    Great post Joe.

    Wong’s STUPIFYING blunder cost us a chance of seeing one of the great post-season batters in a clutch situation.

    SIDENOTE: How much input, if any, does Bill James have on the Red Sox strategy during these post-season games? Does he text or talk to people during the game? Would be interesting to sit next to James during these playoff games.

    Reply
    1. invitro

      I don’t have the impression that he would have anything to do with in-game strategy. But it seems certain that he has had a major impact on the Red Sox’ 2013 success, and the acquisition of Napoli, Gomes, Ross, and Victorino in particular. Which is why I’m rooting hard for the Sox, even though their fans are so annoying.

      He sometimes drops some hints about his Red Sox duties on the “Ask Bill” page on his website.

      Reply
  15. Kendell

    A couple of observations:

    The announcers on Fox are horrible. When the Sox were holding Wong on with 1 out, they went on and on about how there was absolutely no reason to hold him on. But there was a reason – to keep the double play in order. It’s probably not a good enough reason to justify it, but it is a legitimate reason. They should have at least been able to understand that there is such a thing as a double play in baseball and that it would end the game. But then after there were 2 outs, they never mentioned the fact that they were still holding him on. And you can make a much stronger case that, at that point, there now was no reason at all to hold him on.

    But I think the reason they held him on was because of the shift – there was no gaping hole when Beltran was up because they put the shift on. The SS was on the first base side of second base and the 2nd baseman was where the hole would normally be, thus no gaping hole. It was still ridiculous to hold him on, but it didn’t make for a gaping hole.

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    1. Andrew

      It also bummed me out that the FOX cameras were in the stands when the pickoff happened, so we only saw replays…but I guess there was no way for them to anticipate that.

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    2. Wilbur

      I have less of a problem with the announcers (although I wish they’d speak about half as much as they do) than with the direction of the telecast. The never-ending quick cutting from shot to shot and the constant closeups make it difficult for me to watch.

      He’ll probably win an Emmy.

      Reply
    3. oira61

      You had me at “the announcers on Fox are horrible.” Great camerawork, but for a while now I’ve been watching baseball on Fox with the sound off.

      Reply
  16. TJMac

    I get that typos can be distracting, but he’s posting quickly, for free. If you want perfectly (or near-perfectly) edited stuff, read just his official NBC articles. Joe – I (and I think there’s a lot more out there who, like me, don’t comment often) will readily move past / mentally correct your overall rare typos in exchange for the speed and detail with which you post. Keep up the good work.

    Reply
  17. Wilbur

    Now THIS was a mental lapse: 1951 NL playoff, deciding Game 3, ninth inning, Dodgers lead 4-1. Giant Alvin Dark leads off with a single. The Dodgers choose to hold him on(!). The next hitter, Don Mueller, pulls a grounder just to the right of a diving Gil Hodges for a single.

    We all know what happened after that.

    Reply
  18. jmh5711

    Wong’s run was important because he would need to score to make Beltran the tying run. It made sense to me that the Sox were holding him on

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      You need to really pay more attention. Holding him on is dumb because it doesn’t matter if the runner steals 2nd, 3rd and home. One run doesn’t win the game. All that matters, with two outs anyway, is getting Beltran out… Or, at least, not letting Beltran score. Holding the runner just gives a better chance for Beltran to bang one through the hole or, worse, down the line.

      Reply
  19. Mark Daniel

    If you look at win probability, the Red Sox would have had a higher win probability if there was a man on 1st compared to if there was a man on 2nd, all else being equal. Similarly, the run expectancy matrix indicates more runs are scored, on average, with a man on 2nd compared to a man on 1st, all else being equal.

    It sounds like Farrell was making the statistically sound decision by holding Wong on 1st. So why does this sabermetric reality get tossed out the window in this particular game? What am I missing?

    Reply
    1. Trent Phloog

      Wouldn’t the higher average runs with a man on 2nd be the result of 1 run scoring more frequently — i.e., guy on 2nd scoring on a single? What’s really important in that situation is the chance to score at least 2 runs.

      If there is some reason the runner being on 2nd makes the BATTER more likely to score, I can’t think what it would be. But if you know, I’m willing to learn.

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      1. Bob Lince

        >>If there is some reason the runner being on 2nd makes the BATTER more likely to score, I can’t think what it would be. But if you know, I’m willing to learn.<<

        Because it takes away the ground ball double play opportunity, which would have ended the inning. (Obviously, it doesn't take away the line drive double play opportunity.)

        If the inning ends, there is no chance of continued scoring in that inning.

        Even if what you call "the Batter" had gone out, that would have been only the second out. A subsequent batter might have continued the inning and scoring.

        Reply
    2. Sam

      Because it’s not happening in a vacuum. The run expectancy matrix assumes a normal defense (without a gaping hole). Holding him on makes it easier for the batter since the first baseman isn’t in a great defensive position.

      Reply
      1. Mark Daniel

        Trent, I understood it as higher odds of scoring any amount of runs, and higher odds of scoring more than 1 run (with a man on 2nd compared to a man on 1st). I don’t know why that is, though. And, maybe I’m wrong.

        Sam, I don’t think run expectancy makes an assumption on where the 1st baseman is. Does it?

        Reply
    3. Richard Aronson

      When you are down two runs with two outs in the bottom of the ninth (or later) your Win Probability is identical whether you have a man on first, second, or third, for all practical purposes. There is some infinitesimal greater chance of a line drive hitting the runner if he’s in fair territory (not third), but I doubt it’s enough to affect even the rounding of WPA. I strongly suspect that your WPA would also be the same if you were down one run with the bases empty.

      Earlier in the game, when scoring one run with more inning(s) to come is a major factor on WPA, I agree;holding is right. But in the ninth….

      Reply
  20. dominicancamp

    I think the game 3 ending is a bigger story because it was an ending that had an impact on the winner of the game as compared to who we thought might have won prior to the play.

    In game 4 the Cardinals had a man on first and 2 outs, down by 2 runs with a dominant closer on the mound in the bottom of the 9th. Statistically the Red Sox, at that point, would have been overwhelming favorites to win the game–which is what they did. If the pickoff had not had happened, the Cardinals still would almost certainly have lost that game. No surprise ending.

    Compare that to game 3 where it was a tie game with 2 outs when the bad throw was made to third. Prior to the bad throw to 3rd, it was very much up in the air who was going to win that game.

    I’m not going to say what is more “unusual” between the two plays. Baseball is a game where lots of very unusual things happen. They are going to get more attention when they affect the outcome of the game.

    Reply
  21. invitro

    “buy your client’s favorite coffee on the way,”
    “the coffee cold enough to make the client spit it out. You lose the contract. You get demoted.”
    “give you the client’s favorite coffee at the last possible second, which wins you the contract.”

    Sometimes I feel like I haven’t made the most out of my chances in life. That I’m not using my decades of education and gained knowledge. Then I try to reflect some and realize that at least those decades and knowledge have not resulted in my career hinging on buying people coffee.

    Reply
  22. invitro

    If you’re curious if Ortiz is gonna set some World Series records, you should see
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/postseason/WS_batting.shtml
    and
    http://www.baseball-almanac.com/rb_ws3.shtml
    although there might be a more complete list somewhere else. Anyway, a quick summary:

    BA: Ortiz’s .733 is #2 to Billy Hatcher’s .750 in 1990.
    OBP: his .750 is again #2 to Hatcher’s .800.
    SLG: his 1.267 is only #7.
    OPS: his 2.017 is #6.
    H: Ortiz’s 11 H is not on the list yet. The record is 13, by Marty Barrett, Bobby Richardson, and Lou Brock.

    Reply
  23. Richard Aronson

    Typos: “singleed”

    “He learned a bit” should be leaned.

    You forgot: “Chance that Middlebrooks does not take one step and catches a bad throw because it wasn’t a force play at third so he could leave the base”: 50%.

    Reply
  24. Nick

    A minor point (advantage) for holding the runner at first, even with a two-run margin. Sometimes a grounder is hit up the middle or in the hole between short and third such that the fielder has no chance at the batter-runner, but a good chance to get the force at second. Also, you can get a pick-off (which happened) or out stealing or trying to advance to third on a hit.

    Reply
  25. blazon

    OK…

    can we look at this from another perspective?

    when, ever, has a World Series game concluded on a play where the perpetrator- Uehara -did what he did to affect one player – Beltran – and by doing so quite inadvertently and to his own great surprise created the final out on another – Wong?

    Reply
  26. Justin

    Joe,
    I have something of a solution arguing the other way.

    See, the mistake you make is by looking at the two coffee situation and deciding that the one where you spend an hour screwing around, buying coffee, which entails negotiating traffic and uncertain intersections like into and out of coffee shops on busy commercial streets. You are exponentially increasing the chances for things to get screwed up, whether by spillage, wreckage or seepage. The more time on the road, as well as getting on or off of it, the more chances you present to get hit. How is that somehow the right process, and going with the flow right into a meeting that everyone else is late too, feeling loose and in tune to the work day the wrong process?

    You can argue this stuff either way. Maybe Wong had made those same tactical calculations as you and the Sox play upon this kind of mental lapse at times in their opponents as part of their process to pick up ‘loose’ outs.

    Reply
  27. Justin

    (cont.)
    In other words, in that situation Wong was expecting a lapse in attention from his opponent so long as he did not show a lot of aggression and protected the out, which became the primary duty for certain after the double play was gone, if not before. Instead, the Sox showed him focused attention.

    Its straight from Sun Tzu: When locked into conflict, retreat where the opponent is strong. When he is inattentive, attack. Never attack when he can no longer surrender nor retreat.

    Ok, the last one is a stretch as it applies to Wong essentially surrendering the out and threat to attack 2nd mentally. The lesson here from a baseball perspective seems to be to that in any situation where you call upon a pinch runner, fielder or hitter, substitute another runner or hitter if their initial responsibility changes dramatically before their first out. To ask them to give up on the first set of objectives could result in a mindset of surrender and stasis as they try to mentally change direction during the game and get caught flat footed.

    Reply

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