First of all, let me stipulate that I am a big fan of Ernie Johnson and Ron Darling, the A-Team providing play-by-play and analysis of the Cubs-Nationals series on TBS.
Ron has been excellent at deducing the strategy of the pitchers and hitters as they’ve faced off during the five-game series. And I like Ernie’s unobtrusive way of inserting pertinent stats to enhance my understanding of the games’ ebbs and flows.
But it’s been my experience watching key games on TV that the play-by-play guy and the analysis guy are reluctant to criticize key managerial moves that often decide the outcome of the games.
In the fourth game between Chicago and Washington, with Chicago leading the series 2-1, D.C. was ahead 1-0 in the seventh inning. Cubs manager Joe Maddon then made what I thought was a disastrous mistake. But neither Ernie nor Ron commented on the possible folly of his move.
Jake Arrieta pitched the first four innings in his return from a hamstring injury, giving up only two hits and an unearned run (although he walked five).
Then Joe brought in starter Jon Lester, the guy who has trouble throwing to first base. Lester pitched superbly for another four innings, giving up a walk and a hit, but even more importantly for his confidence, picking off a guy at first to the roar of approval (and disbelief) from the fans.
As everybody knows, Lester has a phobia about throwing to first base, but in the eighth inning he summoned up his courage and threw to first twice. He bounced the ball on the first try, but on his second attempt he got the ball to first baseman Rizzo on the fly, and Rizzo put the tag on for the out. That move was huge, not only because it went a long way toward lifting his shibboleth but also because it removed a base runner. Lester then gave up a two-out single, and that’s when Maddon’s patience ran out.
What a mistake that turned out to be. Carl Edwards Jr. walked two straight and threw another ball to the next guy before Maddon replaced him with old reliable Wade Davis. But the batter unloaded a grand slam home run and the Nationals led 5-0.
I’m not implying that the Cubs would have won if Maddon had allowed Lester to continue pitching: They were hitting a pathetic .150-something and Bryant had struck out four times. In retrospect, of course, it’s easy to argue that Lester should have stayed in the game because he was doing a great job mowing them down, and also as a way of rewarding him for overcoming his demons.
And I further submit that Johnson and Darling should have at least questioned why Maddon had given up on him at a time that should have been a moment of triumph.
Rance Crain is the former president of Crain Communicatons and former editor-in-chief of both Advertising Age and Crain’s New York Business, and is also the former sports editor of the Daily Northwestern. In 1982 he created Electronic Media, a trade magazine that, in 2003, he renamed TVWeek. In 2015 TVWeek was sold to Dexter Canfield Media Inc. In July 2017, Mr. Crain sold his interest in Crain Communications to his brother, Keith Crain. The company had been started by their father in 1916.