Dusty Baker could well wonder, “Why me?”
Why is he caught up in these historically chaotic postseason moments? They are mind-bending, random, never-before-happening events which prevent him from reaching a World Series victory as a manager.
He can take blame for other processes among the 59 postseason games he’s managed. Pitching decisions, lineup choices, the usual criticisms of a manager.
But Baker, who has long operated with liveliness which produces no choice for history other than to follow him, has been undermined by some of the strangest postseason occurrences in baseball history.
Tuesday night produced another installment. It was a sixth inning this time, not a fateful fifth like in Nationals Park, which left onlookers wondering who was running the Voodoo doll from afar.
José Altuve turned a simple throw to second into a ghastly event. Altuve short-armed it, throwing the ball into the ground despite being well within range of the base. Carlos Correa could not pick it. Everything unraveled from there. A five-run disaster, a 3-0 series hole for Houston and another inexplicable, unfair, soul-contorting playoff inning under Baker’s watch.
Altuve squatted after his botched throw, tipped the bill of his cap up, had the same blank-face expression as the night before when he made game-altering mistakes. Baker changed pitchers. Altuve stood alone.
Enoli Paredes entered. He allowed two singles, then started hitting batters. Baker replaced him with Brooks Raley. Pinch-hitter Hunter Renfroe blooped a hit into shallow right field for a double, forcing Baker to throw up in his hands when Renfroe’s pop fly landed in such an exasperating place. On and on it went until the Rays led, 5-2.
“Right now, they’re believing that everything they do is going to turn out right, and it is turning out right,” Baker told reporters afterward.
Tuesday night’s sixth inning slides in with other postseason wackiness Baker has endured.
Nothing is more infamous than the 2003 Steve Bartman Incident -- it has a full name -- at Wrigley Field. It was the eighth inning of Game 6 of the NLCS when Bartman reached up to catch what would have been an out. The Cubs led the game 3-0, the series 3-2 and were five outs from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. Instead, the Marlins scored eight runs after Bartman’s fateful interaction with Luis Castillo’s foul pop. The Cubs lost the series in seven games.
Thirteen years later, Baker summoned Hall-of-Fame bound Max Scherzer to pitch in relief. Scherzer entered Game 5 of the NLDS against the Cubs in the fifth inning. The Nationals led, 4-2, when Scherzer came into the game. He quickly retired the Cubs’ two best hitters. Then, disaster.
Wilson Contreras’ ground ball went toward the middle. Trea Turner was shifted well toward third base, so Contreras, a catcher, ended up safe at first on what was otherwise a standard ground ball. Two batters later, a sequence never before seen in baseball began: an intentional walk, a strikeout swinging with a passed ball which allowed the batter to reach first, catcher’s interference, and a hit by pitch. Four runners to the basepaths. None via a hit. The Nationals trailed 7-4 by the end of the mess and went on to lose 8-7.
Now, Altuve has the yips. Carlos Correa swapped spots with Altuve in the shift on Monday night after Altuve made two throwing errors. Altuve’s throwing error in Game 3 Tuesday began a parade of nonsense.
Altuve had never made errors in consecutive games before Monday and Tuesday nights, according to STATS inc. That was a 1,361-game stretch. Yet, he did so here, in the postseason, with Baker helpless in the dugout watching his World Series chance slip. Just add it to the list.