Hello, baseball fan. How are you? Sad? Sad because it’s January? Sad because the last taste of sweet, sweet Major League Baseball was some months ago? I understand. Baseball makes you happy, and the lack of baseball makes you sad, especially in January. But there are some things that can buoy your spirits. You can remember that January is the last month of the offseason without baseball happenings. Pitchers and catchers will soon travel to Arizona and Florida, presumably to pitch and catch.
Here’s something else that might help turn that grimace into a grin: A game recap of a real life Major League Baseball game. Sure, the game in question took place two years ago, but that doesn’t matter in January’s bleakness. So welcome to the second annual recap from the cold, where we turn back the clock to recap a baseball game. It can fill the baseball shaped hole in our hearts, and maybe we’ll discover something out we didn't know before along the way.
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In today’s edition, we’re going to travel back to June 21, 2014. It was the second of a three game series against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers. Christian Friedrich, making his first big league appearance since 2012, faced off against Wily Peralta. And for reasons you either already know or will quickly remember, this was the symbolic low point of the 2014 season. One interesting tidbit about Friedrich's performance is that it was technically his second of the year, due to his later participation in the completion of a suspended game from May. So as far as Baseball Reference is concerned, Friedrich is a time traveler.
On the shoulders of Troy Tulowitzki’s tremendous start to the season, the Rockies had played at or above .500 for much of the year up to that point. But at the time, they were on a bit of a skid. After a five game winning streak that included a road sweep of the first place San Francisco Giants, the Rockies were 34-36. But the Rockies followed that sweep by getting swept at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Rockies then dropped the first game against the Brewers upon returning to Coors Field.
In brief, Colorado was not in a great spot. Fittingly, the game under review here was one with ominous signs that began before the game even started. The first action in the ROOT Sports broadcast showed the Coors Field ground crew pulling the tarp over the infield. The game wouldn’t start on time.
If the delay wasn’t inauspicious enough, the broadcast returned with these words from Drew Goodman: "Welcome back from our 23 minute rain delay—even though it didn’t rain."
Looking back on it, we should have known. We should have listened to the illusory rain and tangible tarp and known that this was going to be a tough day for the Rockies. And perhaps we would have, but the first inning served as misdirection. Friedrich opened the game with a clean, crisp, inning. He struck out Rickie Weeks with a nasty curveball. Next up was Ryan Braun, who the Coors Field audience met with a chorus of boos, although they might have been saying "boo-raun, boo-raun!" Either way, Friedrich sat him down, and he took care of Jonathan Lucroy just the same. Yup, it was your ol’ three up, three down, and everyone was feelin’ fine.
Not only that, but things got even better in the bottom half of the inning. Charlie Blackmon led off the game with a single. Next up was Drew Stubbs. Stubbs hit a sharp ground ball to second base that Weeks bobbled. Ultimately, the play resulted in the first weird play in a game full of them. Weeks had a great shot to get the out at second base. In fact, the bobbled ball led him to second base, where all he needed to do was pick up the ball and let Blackmon slide into an out. Instead, Blackmon punted the ball into center field:
And things were going just fine for the Rockies. Just fine. They also got a bit better. With Tulowitzki at the plate, Blackmon and Stubbs executed a perfect double steal, which put two runners into scoring position for the man who was, at the time, the best hitter in all of baseball. Tulo couldn’t bring the runners home, as he lined out to second base. But Morneau was able to drive in a run with a single, which gave the Rockies a 2-0 lead.
So deceiving, that first inning. If we weren’t hoodwinked by Friedrich’s superb start to the game, scoring both of the base runners to take an early lead surely did it. The second inning is where the truth of the game was revealed, but it was only the beginning.
Turning points in baseball games come in different ways. A contest can turn in a flash, for instance. A dinger can rapidly untie a tied game in the bottom of the eighth inning, thus swinging the game. Another way a game can turn is by accumulation. This meeting with the Brewers turned into the visiting team’s favor by the latter path.
It started with a hard hit groundball to third baseman Josh Rutledge off the bat of Carlos Gómez. Rutledge misplayed the ball, allowing it to get behind him. The result was a single and an error. Gómez ended up at second base. This was far from a catastrophe, but it was a sign of what was about to happen. An even greater sign took place when Gómez tagged up on an Aramis Ramirez fly out to make it to third base. That, in itself, was not the ominous sign—it came when Friedrich appealed the tag:
Sometimes, the most routine throws can get away from a professional baseball player. Perhaps it’s a wild pitch during an intentional walk; or maybe it’s an outfield lawn dart. Here, Friedrich just needed to play catch with second baseman DJ LeMahieu, and he almost bounced it into the outfield. Use caution!
Things like this just kept piling up. Khris Davis, the next batter up, reached on Rutledge’s second error of the game. The result was a run scored, with Davis ending up on second base. Mark Reynolds proceeded to drive Davis in with a single to center field, which tied the game 2-2. Next up was Jean Segura. He was hit by a pitch, so if anybody was at home playing How Not to Win Bingo they could have crossed off that box.
Fortune has a way of balancing out. Things were going badly for the Rockies, but they had a shot to get out of the inning with the game tied. What did fortune do in this case? It gave the Rockies a double play ball off the bat of pitcher Wily Peralta—but it also had Segura topple LeMahieu’s relay throw to first base. It was somewhere between an Utley-esque dive and an actual slide. The result was not just a missed double play, but also an error and another run scored. Peralta scored easily on a Weeks triple before Friedrich got out of the inning.
Drew Goodman: "Well that was an ugly inning by the Rockies." Three hits, three errors, and a 2-0 lead turning into a 4-2 deficit supported the statement. I imagine Goodman recalling his foolishness when, in between innings and off the air, he perhaps told George Frazier, "it can’t get any worse than that."
The bottom of the second was uneventful. Peralta retired LeMahieu and Michael McKenry to start it off, but Friedrich reached base with a single; however, Blackmon stranded him at first, sending the game to the third inning.
It took the Brewers three batters to get a runner across the plate in their four run second inning. It was a turning point by accumulation, but it was relatively quick. The first four plate appearances of the third inning resulted in a walk, a fly out, a single, and another fly out. The Brewers did put another run on the board after a Reynolds double, which made it a 5-2 game and put runners on second and third.
Att this point, the wheels fell off.
By now, you might have guessed that our climax is the wild pitch that scored three runs. It’s worth being reminded of some of the details of the play. First, the Rockies chose to put the third runner on base. With first base open and the eighth hitter at the plate, Walt Weiss elected to intentionally walk Segura to bring the pitcher to the plate.
Friedrich had Peralta just where he wanted him, too: A ball and two strikes. All he needed to do was put him away—just put him away.
Did the wires get crossed? Friedrich’s wild pitch didn’t have the characteristic wildness that wild pitches tend to have. It wasn’t in the dirt. The ball just sailed above McKenry’s left shoulder, making it easy for Ramirez to score.
Was it an ill-conceived underhanded throw? Whatever it was, Friedrich couldn’t corral the ball, and it dribbled into no-man’s land near the Brewers dugout.
Was it the Ambien everyone decided to take before the game? Sure, nobody has to operate heavy machinery, but it was still poor timing, if that was the reason for this play. Regardless, Segura took advantage of the Rockies’ slumber and scored the third run.
Friedrich struck Peralta out on the very next pitch, after which the crowd was decidedly not yelling "boo-raun."
Should we have seen this coming? That single pitch, which didn’t result in a ball in play, was the single most important one of the game. It lifted the Brewers’ win probability from 71 percent to 93 percent—conversely, it lowered the Rockies’ chances of winning from 29 percent to seven. One might conclude that the second inning was portentous enough to tell us all that something like The Wild Pitch would happen. But three errors in an inning aren’t so unusual. Maybe we were looking in the wrong place.
Not long before The Wild Pitch, Christian Friedrich almost killed a bird. This we know:
What we don’t know is the type of bird it was. Was it a normal bird—the flying and pooping kind—or was it a hexing bird—the kind that can butter fingers and cause Ambien to kick in at just the wrong time with a few flaps of a wing? There’s no way to determine this. Remember, this is a game in which Friedrich made his season debut after he later pitched in a May game in September. The bird spell theory is in play; we simply can't rule it out when trying to explain what happened to the Rockies in the top of the third inning against the Milwaukee Brewers on June 21, 2014.
The remaining 6 1/3 innings of the game were not nearly as eventful. Baseball also has a way of packing the drama into dense chunks. The Brewers added a run; the Rockies added two runs; the game ended 9-4.
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Given how poorly, the first three innings went, one might assume that Friedrich got an early shower. He didn’t, though. He pitched the next three innings and only gave up two hits, although one was a home run. Even in the most overwhelming and frustrating of situations, Friedrich came back out and continued to play. We also continued to watch the game, as well as the one after that, and the one after that. This deep read into the low point of 2014 isn’t meant to be mean-spirited. That it’s still so memorable shows that we keep coming back, and, in a way, it also illustrates why.