Tuesday, November 7, 2017

No Apology Necessary. Really.

By Jeff Kallman

It's bad enough that the goat business isn't really going out of business in sports. Now the goat has to apologize on broadcast camera?

A TMZ reporter caught up with Yu Darvish this past weekend. With camera. Asking Darvish how he was feeling, two or three days after the Astros made an inning-and-two-thirds piñata out of him for the second time in two World Series starts.

And Darvish continued owning it, from the moment the TMZ reporter asked how he was doing. "Personally, I'm good, but I still feel bad about Game 7," Darvish replied, not as red-eyed as he looked at the postgame press conference, otherwise looking like a neighborhood guy in a casual blue plaid shirt and under a casual black ball cap.

"It was a tough loss, it was a tough loss," said the reporter, sympathetically, before asking Darvish if he had something to say to Dodger fans. Darvish flinched facially for one moment, looked both ways as he turned the corner where he was walking, grimaced a fleeting second, then replied.

"For the Dodger fans, I still feel bad about it. They expect we won the World Series. I couldn't do it. I still feel sorry, but I did my hundred percent."

Nobody knows at this writing whether the now-free agent Darvish will return to the Dodgers, or whether the Dodgers want him back. The TMZ reporter did nothing more than a good reporter does, but he should have dropped his jaw when Darvish still felt the compulsion to apologize.

Somebody needs to have a sit-down with Darvish and tell him what few dare to do with those branded as sports goats, but which Thomas Boswell once put forward: "The reason we don't forgive you is because there's nothing to forgive. You tried your best and failed."

The flip side of which, of course, is that there come times, even in the life of Hall of Famers, when the other guy is better than you in one terribly terrific, terrifically terrible moment. Luis Gonzalez was better than Mariano Rivera ending the 2001 World Series, but nobody among even the least entitled-feeling of Yankee fans asked The Mariano to grovel.

Baseball history is almost as loaded with actual or alleged goats as with heroes. Fred Merkle, Freddie Lindstrom, Ernie Lombardi, Johnny Pesky, Ralph Branca, Art Mahaffey, Gene Mauch, Willie Davis, Curt Flood, Tom Niedenfeuer, Don Denkinger, Donnie Moore, Bill Buckner, Calvin Schiraldi, John McNamara, Mitch Williams, Grady Little. Not to mention spectacularly collapsing teams. The '64 Phillies, the '69 Cubs, the '78 Red Sox, the '03 Cubs, the '06 Mets, the '11 Braves, this year's Nationals, maybe every Indian between Hurricane Hazel and the present. Are we supposed to demand their apologies now? Ever?

To this day you can find Phillies fans who'd love to make Mahaffey grovel. With Hall of Famer Frank Robinson at the plate, Cincinnati rookie Chico Ruiz stunned an entire ballpark plus his own coaching staff when he broke from third as Mahaffey — owner of the National League's best pickoff move, but arm already in motion over his head as he worked without a windup with a man on third — delivered home. Startled in that split second, Mahaffey's pitch went off course and, with catcher Clay Dalrymple unable to block or handle it, Ruiz stole home. It was the only run of that loss, which started the epic 10-game losing streak that ultimately cost the '64 Phillies the pennant they were running away with until that game.

"I stopped my arm, and the pitch went low and outside," said Mahaffey, now a retired insurance executive, three years ago. "Ruiz couldn't have timed it any better. If he did it a hundredth of a second sooner or later, it would have been a different pitch. If I throw a strike, Robinson swings and bashes his head off. It was the stupidest play. For all these years, people don't forget. It's a terrible memory. It's a sin. Six-and-a-half-game lead with 12 to play."

The interviewer described "the pain" in Mahaffey's voice as he spoke. (Mahaffey's career ended not long afterward thanks to a frayed rotator cuff in a time when surgery to repair it didn't exist.) Is he still supposed to apologize for being caught off guard by a daring rookie who got away with something close to murder?

Right now, forgiving Darvish over Game 7 will be two things for too many Dodger fans: difficult, and impossible. But how about forgiving the Dodger brain trusters who didn't catch him tipping his pitches — their job descriptions include catching onto such things, you know — and fix it before the Astros could do any more damage than they'd done in the top of the first?

How about forgiving the Dodger hitters who looked Lance McCullers, Jr.'s gift horse in the mouth, had two or more on against him in the first few innings including the bases loaded in the bottom of the first, but swung like Little Leaguers trying to hit 6-run homers on every pitch and left those baserunners with grounds to charge desertion?

Video closeups caught Darvish's glove giving just a slight wiggle while he prepared to grip his breaking stuff, but keeping still when preparing to grip his fastball. The Astros went down in the first inning of Game 3 despite Springer's leadoff double. They plated four in the second and drove Darvish out.

You tell me if they weren't paying attention on the bench in that first. If no Dodger coach, teammate, or even pitching coach Rick Honeycutt caught on as quickly as the Astros did, while the Astros destroyed him from the outset in Game 7, then Lucy, they got some splainin' to do.

Pitch tipping is usually inadvertent. Opponents usually catch on before the hapless pitcher does. That's gamesmanship. It's not the same as, say, stealing signs with an elaborate telescope-and-underground-buzzer rig. In the hands of the '51 Giants, that was grand theft pennant race comeback. The Mugging at Coogan's Bluff.

To the day he died Ralph Branca couldn't really be sure whether Bobby Thomson — who became his friend years after the Shot Heard Round the World — looked for the bullpen signal that the fastball was coming: "He still had to hit the pitch."

And except for the late Monte Irvin (who actually refused to take the scope-and-buzz sign) and Thomson (who always seemed ambivalent about it), the '51 Giants still don't seem to be inclined to apologize. They should have counted themselves lucky that Branca, as Vin Scully said upon his death, "carried the cross of the Thomson home run with dignity and grace."

Leo Durocher hatched the scope-and-buzz scheme with a little help from a coach and a reserve. He managed the '51 Giants and the '69 Cubs, whose stretch collapse was largely his doing. Years later he met and apologized to a group of re-convened '69 Cubs (as did Gene Mauch years later to his '64 Phillies), but he never apologized for the '51 Giants. As a goat he felt compelled to apologize, albeit decades after the fact. As a master thief, well...

Even in triumph there's someone who got beaten along the way in a key moment. For all its joy over their World Series triumph, Astroworld isn't yet sure whether to forgive Ken Giles for surrendering the Game 4 tiebreaker in the top of the ninth. All he did was throw Cody Bellinger a nasty fastball a little off the plate, and Bellinger lined it into the left center field gap for a double.

All Joe Musgrove did two hitters later was serve up a sacrifice fly and — on a fastball that rode up and in to Joc Pederson — a 3-run homer. Without those, Alex Bregman's excuse-me solo homer in the bottom of the ninth would have tied the game. But Giles took the loss, the loss of his closer's role, the loss of even a quick subsequent Series appearance, and the indignation.

Nobody's compelled Giles to a public apology yet, and Giles owned Bellinger's double as firmly as Darvish has owned his Game 7 catastrophe. And they don't owe us a damn thing. Because — the failures of Darvish's mates and coaches to spot his little flaw notwithstanding — sometimes, and often at the worst of times, someone else is just a little bit better.

Someone needs to tell that to Darvish. Before he ends up apologizing to death. And before anyone compels Ken Giles (or even Musgrove) to apologize some time, some place, someone should tell their would-be Astroworld executioners, You won! Get over it!

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