Who was it who said, for the first time, that you couldn’t predict baseball?
Well, he was right tonight, and then some. Because just as I was thinking of how applicable the quote was to the instance at hand, of a 43 year old, 300 pound pitcher throwing eight shutout innings and, by appearance if not reality, on his way to a complete game shutout, baseball proved, yet again, that even when it’s unpredictable, you can’t predict it.
What was Jeurys Familia doing on the mound in a 4-0 game? Against a Braves team that had barely hit all day? Replacing a pitcher who had cruised through the previous eight innings? Neither of us knew either.
Familia is our closer, an arm we may need tomorrow, a fireballing, young reliever who is in his place amongst the National League leaders in appearances. It was not a save situation. Bartolo, you felt, could have thrown eight more innings if necessary.
I don’t know what Familia was doing in the game. Sometimes, I think Terry Collins just likes to see what happens when he manages completely against common sense, and for now, at least, it turned out fine.
Bartolo, with the win, surpassed Pedro Martinez on the all-time list of wins by Dominican-born pitchers, and a more fitting successor, I’m sure Pedro himself cannot imagine. Pedro, who once started dancing when the sprinklers disrupted his start. Pedro, of current fame for his oft-vined shout of “THOOOOOOOOR!” during last year’s World Series broadcast. Pedro, who by all accounts was the goofiest, funniest, liveliest, most energetic guy in a clubhouse that also contained Jose Reyes.
Pedro’s down to number three now; Bartolo is at number two. I doubt either of them cares very much. I can’t help but imagine some kind of TV special, “A Conversation With Pedro and Bartolo.” The kind of thing the producers hoped be a serious conversation about what it meant to pitch in the major leagues, but would inevitably turn into shared stories of clubhouse pranks, wacky escapades, and ridiculous hijinks that, while perhaps not the most poignant, were certainly more than their share of fun.
And as the producers looked on in horror, watching their show that was meant to be deep and somber, turn into a festival of laughs, they’d be the ones forgetting that those kinds of things are what it means to pitch in the major leagues.
We all love players who are enthusiastic, energetic, youthful — guys who have maintained a sense of fun from little league fields of childhood, who are playing baseball because it’s the greatest game in the world. Of course, most players are like that, but there are guys who go the extra mile. David Wright, the captain, who cares more than anyone on the field but always remembers that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Curtis Granderson, about whom the same could be said. And, of course, Bartolo.
It’s the behind-the-back flip that makes of love Bartolo like we do, but even more, the guilty smile after the play, as if he knows that he shouldn’t have done what he did even if it worked out fine. It’s the wild, flailing swing that occasionally makes contact and even more occasionally puts the ball in play — he nearly lined the ball down the left field line for what I like to think would have been a triple today, but it was foul by a foot or so, and in all likelihood, would have gone for a double regardless — but even more than the swing, it’s the smile after he’s done at the plate, that says that even though it’s not his job to hit, he’s gone up there and given it his best.
And, of course, it’s the fact that he’s still out there, a long, bumpy, 22 year career, 220 wins in the bag and a few more to come. “We’re all told at some point that we can no longer play the children’s game,” said the well-meaning but badly mistaken scout in Moneyball. “Some of us are told at 18, some of us are told at 40. But we’re all told.” Correct, obviously, in the vast majority of circumstances — but this isn’t one of them. Bartolo’s still out there playing the children’s game with all the energy of a 15 year old kid, and as long as he’s pitching eight scoreless innings and being denied the chance at a ninth, he’ll continue to do so.
Meanwhile, while Bartolo was stealing the show and our hearts, we were scoring four runs in the first on home runs from the captain — another who is still playing the children’s game — Cespedes, and Duda, good for two runs more than we would need. Come on — they’re the Braves, on track to have the worst season in MLB history, and looking, early on, like they might just stick to that track all the way to the end. We’re a team and a damn good one, with a dog in the fight for the National League.
And when we get done sweeping the Braves on Wednesday, and later in the year, when we finish beating them in every one of our 19 matchups, we’ll have gone a long way towards proving it.
Our streak of eight ended yesterday; tonight, a new one began. We’ve got the Braves, then the Padres — those are six chances, right there, to show we’re as good a team as we say. Then we’ve got the Dodgers, who are due a world of hurt at our expense. Then the Rockies, who we showed we could beat last year, then the Nationals, who are due for a little reminder that they can’t lay claim to the division just yet.
Sound like a tough stretch? No? Well, that’s because for us, no stretch is particularly tough. We’ll get through the Braves, and the Padres, and whoever gets thrown at us. We’ve got four aces to make sure of it.
And then, on the fifth day, when we don’t have an ace, we’ve got the most endearing of the bunch: Bartolo himself.