SIOUX CITY -- It’s time again to draw upon the vast reservoirs of insight I gleaned from the remarkable common sense life’s lessons have taught Ed Nottle, the former Sioux City Explorers’ baseball manager.
Ed, who will turn 78 this coming Sunday, came within a whisker of major league managing jobs with the Oakland Athletics and the Boston Red Sox. Rather than delve again into those complex tales, suffice it to say this 50-year professional baseball veteran knows the business about as well as anyone.
In simplest terms, one of Ed’s major convictions after all that time is that even the best of the game’s managers may only tip the scales enough to add two or three wins in a season. And, if he didn’t also add the following, I’ll shoulder the blame by suggesting these people are far likelier to cost their teams even more losses with their “brilliant” decision making.
That would have been my primary theme, too, had I sat down late Sunday night, immediately following Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, and ruminated on the latest disappointment for those of us in the Chicago Cubs’ “nation.’’
Still steaming, I’d have dumped it all on Manager Joe Maddon for putting John Lackey in a situation the aging starter was not equipped to handle. And, I didn’t need my 20-20 hindsight to know Lackey, who’ll be 39 next Monday, was simply the wrong pitcher to send to the mound with two outs, one runner on base and the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth inning.
A pitcher who had worked in relief just twice in 542 regular season outings over an 18-year professional career, this was no time to be asking him to come out of the bullpen on consecutive nights for the first time ever. The baseball gods even gave Maddon a mulligan when Lackey walked Chris Taylor, the first batter he faced, bringing up the dangerous Justin Turner.
Instead of thanking his lucky stars that an ill-advised gamble hadn’t already cost his team another game, Maddon left Lackey on the mound. Still battling to throw strikes, the veteran needed only one more pitch to find the heart of that elusive strike zone. No one was more grateful than Turner, who launched his game-winning three-run bomb to straightaway center field.
Having already overworked Wade Davis in Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday, Maddon didn’t think his closer had enough in the tank to get Turner and then come back and work that other inning the Cubs will never have the opportunity to play.
Even though righthander Hector Rondon had given up a costly homer one night earlier to Taylor, an established reliever was certainly a better option than Lackey, a novice in this role who also just happened to have surrendered 36 home runs this year -- five more than any other pitcher in the National League.
Maddon, of course, will always be the skipper of the 2016 world champion Cubs, even if it seemed at times the Cubs might have pulled that off easier if he’d simply stayed out of their way. That isn’t really fair and I know it, believe me. I also know this is an articulate and compassionate fellow who is a credit to the game, sharing large chunks of his $6-million salary with worthy charities.
Meanwhile, his team hasn’t yet surrendered their grip on the championship, facing less of a challenge with a 2-0 NLCS deficit than they did with Cleveland leading 3-1 in last year’s World Series.
However, the Cubs’ rise to power can’t continue without fortifying that bullpen tout suite. Also, this year’s quest is all but over if a team that scored 822 regular season runs, second in the NL behind only to the Rockies’ 824, doesn’t snap out of its offensive funk.
Yes, the Nationals and Dodgers have challenged the Cubs with an impressive array of pitchers. Still, even with nine runs in one game, they are 34 of 210 (.162) in seven postseason contests, striking out 73 times. The combined contributions of Kris Bryant (5 of 28), Anthony Rizzo (4 of 26), Willson Contreras (4 of 22), Jason Heyward (2 of 15) and Javier Baez (0 of 19) add up to 15 of 110, or a .136 clip.
Hate to say it, but I’m not impressed with Brian Anderson, the play-by-play announcer hired by TBS to work the NLCS with knowledgeable Ron Darling. I’ll give Anderson points for the mellifluous kind of voice such a major assignment should require, but he’s sure fumbled a lot of facts. Turns out his real job is calling games for Milwaukee Brewers telecasts….
Also, it had escaped my notice that lefthanded reliever Tony Watson, who’d spent most of his seven major league seasons in Pittsburgh, had been stolen away by the Dodgers July 31 for a couple of unimpressive young minor leaguers. Watson, who sports an excellent 2.68 ERA in 474 MLB outings, is officially a Sioux City native, even though he was just an infant when the family relocated to Dallas Center, near Des Moines, where his father, Steve, a Westmar grad, is the longtime Dallas Center-Grimes athletic director….
Celebrities are everywhere at Dodger Stadium, of course, but none was more visible Saturday and Sunday than former Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart, sitting in the front row behind home plate with hubby Burt Sugarman, a major TV exec. Thanks, Google, for enlightening me that Mary, soon to turn 67, is a native of Madison, South Dakota, and a graduate of Augustana who taught English for two years at Sioux Falls Washington.
We’re sure having fun watching Ida Grove native Trever Ryen do his darnedest to get Iowa State to its first bowl game since 2012 and also to its first winning season since 2009.
The fleet senior wide receiver was all over the field in Saturday’s 45-0 rout of Kansas, returning a punt for a touchdown for the second time in his career, recovering a muffed punt on special teams and making it 19 out of 20 games in which he has caught a pass.
It was four years ago last spring that Ryen led OA-BCIG to a Class 2A state runner-up finish in track, figuring in four wins (100, 200, 4x100 and 4x200) that accounted for 40 of the team’s 49 points. A month earlier, he was a very close sixth in the best Drake Relays 100 ever for Northwest Iowa -- a sprint in which Heelan defensive end Zach Skibinski led a 1-2-3 Sioux City finish while East’s Anthony Dreeszen and Ronald Nash were second and third.
Speaking of ISU football, impressive as running back David Montgomery has been, I’d almost forgotten the true sophomore from Cincinnati has taken the starting job away from redshirt junior Mike Warren. All Warren did was rush for 1,339 yards as a redshirt freshman two seasons ago, fifth in Cyclone history.