Calling the Pen: Starting to think the game I loved isn't coming back -
Calling the Pen

Calling the Pen: Starting to think the game I loved isn’t coming back

I was running on the NCR Trail on Friday, thinking about how disappointing it was that Game 4 of the World Series was a parade of relief pitchers when I encountered my friend Dave Slomkowski, the executive director of Athletes Serving Athletes. He saw the game a little differently than I did.

Dave acknowledged that he’s not a baseball fan but brought up the subject as we ran together because he knows how much I enjoy it. He is, however, a sports fan, and he knows athleticism when he sees it.

“The movement on the pitches I saw was incredible,” Dave said. “It helps that they have the technology to capture the movement, but I was blown away by what I saw.”

His 9-year-old son Davey also impressed him when he brought out his glove and wanted to play catch. “I have my dad’s old Montgomery Ward glove with a Paul Blair signature,” Dave said. “A new glove might be a Christmas gift.”

It reminded me of getting a Rawlings glove with Wally Bunker’s signature one Christmas. Bunker won 19 games for the Orioles as a rookie before hurting his arm. He was one of three Orioles who pitched consecutive complete-game shutouts in the four-game sweep of the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series. Jim Palmer started the run, followed by Bunker and Dave McNally. The last two games were 1-0, and Moe Drabowsky was the only reliever used by the Orioles, going 6 2/3 innings and striking out 11 without allowing a run after McNally struggled in Game 1’s 5-2 win.

It turned out to be not only a stunning sweep but it also was the last game pitched by Sandy Koufax, the best pitcher I ever saw. It was crushing when he announced his retirement at age 30 because of an arthritic elbow.

But as I was trying to figure out why — with better training and bigger and stronger athletes — starting pitchers don’t play as a prominent a role as they once did, Dave was marveling at just how athletic they are.

Still, I miss that part of the game — the anticipation of watching pitchers such Palmer, Koufax, Bob Gibson, Juan Marichal, Nolan Ryan, Randy Johnson, Mike Mussina, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw and Shohei Ohtani. The pitching matchups for me go back to the 1963 World Series when Koufax faced Whitey Ford and the Yankees, who defined dynasty at that time. I loved when Koufax beat them twice with complete-game performances.

I appreciated the Rangers’ Nate Eovaldi, who was Big Game Nate in the postseason, but managers always seem to be in a rush to get to their bullpen in this age of analytics. There is no stronger example than Rays manager Kevin Cash’s decision to remove Blake Snell in the sixth inning with a 1-0 lead against the Dodgers because he didn’t want Snell to face the batting order a third time. Reliever Nick Anderson gave up the lead and the Rays lost the Series. Snell later acknowledged he, too, felt lost.

“I was lost,” Snell said. “I didn’t know what to say, what to do. I just remember I called my dad when I got to the hotel. We talked for a minute, and I didn’t really say much. I didn’t have anything to say. I was like, ‘We really just handed them the World Series.’ That’s how it felt.”

I feel as though I can get lost in missing the game I grew up with. It put a strong emphasis on the starting pitcher. Those days seem to be gone, but I’m glad my friend Dave saw something that I might have taken for granted. And that his son wanted to play catch. The game goes on. It’s just different.

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