Opening the Diary: National League Wild Card
Welcome! We are coming to you live (after the fact) from beautiful Casa de NotBurt, waiting for the do-or-die Wild Card matchup between the Washington Nationals and the visiting Milwaukee Brewers to begin. We’ve got Scherzer and Woodruff on the mound, and I’ve got two toddlers running around, Guinness in the fridge, and
Dom DeLuise NotDomDeLuise is in the kitchen whipping up the pillowy goodness of some homemade calzones. Baby, oh baby. Don’t let this one be a stinker.
Let’s get to the fight.
7:01—It’s time for the best part of baseball on TBS, the delightful Ernie Johnson, who’s dressed dapper as ever and introduces us to his partner in broadcasting, Ron Darling, but it seems like a lifetime before Ernie finally acknowledges the giant, handsome elephant in the room, Jeff Francouer. Francouer then said a bunch of words that were probably important, but I wasn’t paying attention because I briefly fell into those dreamy peepers of his.
Speaking of Francouer, we must talk about Frenchy. As in, will Ernie Johnson call him Frenchy? Obviously. Announcers love nicknames like that, especially when it ends in a Y. But how many times will they call him Frenchy? Will they just randomly refer to him as Frenchy, without explanation? Or say something stilted like, “So they called Jeff ‘Frenchy’ because his last name sounds kind of French.”? How about Jeff? Will we get one Jeff? I cannot relay how surprised I’ll be if they simply call him Jeff for the entire broadcast.
Back to baseball. But first, this:
Official Jeff Francouer Betting Lines
Total Frenchys O/U: 6.5.
Total Jeffs O/U: 1.5.
Nothing But Frenchys: 7:1.
Nothing But Jeffs: 22:1.
Over 13.5 Frenchys + Zero Jeffs + Zero Explanation/Acknowledgement of “Frenchy”: 150:1.
7:03—We get our first shot of Brewers starter Brandon Woodruff and the amazing crop of hair that he’s been cultivating on his face in preparation for battle with the heterochromian Max Scherzer. An unconfirmed and hypothetical source from inside the Brewers clubhouse is telling me that Woodruff is actually growing red Amish thistle, a rare variety of face-lettuce favored for its resistance to blue-eye voodoo, as well as brown. Rare, indeed.
7:04—The Frenchy seal has been breached.
7:11—After nibbling around and walking Trent Grisham, Scherzer wasn’t going to do the same and get behind to the much more dangerous Yasmani Grandal. The crowd is electric. Pulsating. Waiting for Mad Max to take that walk personally and get down to business.
7:12—Scherzer throws a first-pitch heater, belt high. Yasmani hits it into the bullpen. The silence is deafening.
7:16—Scherzer gets out of the inning, but first blood has been drawn.
7:18 – 7:23—The most interesting thing in these five minutes is the beer commercial where a blonde woman is very good at games in bars and proceeds to prove it by challenging all comers in feats of skill and strength, presumably because of the beer she was drinking. Even going so far as to win an arm-wrestling match without so much as turning her hat around like a switch. She’s presented in a way where I feel like I’m supposed to know who she is. But I do not, and this is probably just because I am so old. Thanks, Budweiser, for making me confront my own mortality.
Oh yeah, and Milwaukee starter Brandon Woodruff mowed through three batters like hot lava.
7:26—Eric Thames takes a curve for a ball.
7:26 and a 1/2—Eric Thames hits a curveball 411 feet. And so far, the Brewers are attacking Max early. First-pitch swinging, second-pitch swinging. All the swinging.
7:29—One of the announcers agrees with me that the Brewers’ plan of attack seems to be one of aggressive swinging against Scherzer. I’m not sure who said it, but in my heart, it was Frenchy.
7:38—Ernie kindly reminds us that Howie Kendrick is a professional hitter. Howie responds by kindly fouling a ball off his ankle. And then rolling a seeing-eye single through the left side.
7:44—The crowd wants so desperately to once again come alive, erupting at the crack of the bat on an Asdrubal Cabrera fly out. And almost losing their minds on a Kurt Suzuki ball caught at the wall. But no dice, Jim Rice.
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7:48—Continuing the early theme of the night, Grandal jumps all over the first pitch he sees and just gets under it, flying out to right. Scherzer should probably not throw him any more first-pitch fastballs in the middle of the zone. It doesn’t really seem to be fooling him.
7:50—Congratulations to everyone who had the top of the third for when the first joke about Scherzer’s eyes gets made! You win nothing.
7:51—Scherzer has Keston Hiura down 1-2 and TBS gives us our first closeup of Hiura’s world-class bad mustache, and Scherzer looks offended that it’s even sullying the batter’s box. There is zero chance he doesn’t strike out here.
7:52—Hiura strikes out.
8:00—Scherzer seems to finally be settling in, but the lineup sure isn’t helping him. Over and over, they keep trying and failing to catch up to Woodruff’s high heat. Victor Robles strikes out, Scherzer grounds out, and now Trea Turner is up there fouling off more of the high heaters.
8:01—High heat turns into letter-high heat, and Turner parks it near a tree. For the first time since Grandal went yard-dog in the first, the crowd reminds us that they’re there. The Nationals head to the fourth still down 3-1 but are looking to keep the momentum up as their ace is finding his groove.
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8:06—That momentum is then almost crushed by a Thames fly ball to left that just keeps carrying and drifting. And dropping, as Juan Soto can’t adjust back and lets it fall. Frenchy breaks it down and says the problem was that Soto likely thought the ball was a simple can of corn when it was not, in fact, a can of corn at all. Luckily, this corn kerfuffle does not come back to haunt the Nationals, and they escape the inning unharmed.
8:12—After the home run by Turner in the third and with Scherzer settling in (having sat down seven batters in a row before the misplay by Soto), the Nationals have the heart of their order up in the fourth. This is the time for a big inning, and the crowd acknowledges the feeling by setting the stadium abuzz with their anticipation.
8:17—Brandon Woodruff sits down Anthony Rendon, Soto, and Kendrick on seven pitches.
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8:19—Woodruff is pulled after four innings and 52 pitches, allowing only a solo home run and weak ground-ball single. Begin rant:
I get all the reasons on paper to pull him. I really do. Craig Counsell even said that their best-case scenario was getting four innings from Woodruff, then counting on their bullpen bridges to get them to Josh Hader, instead of Terabithia. But I will almost always hate pulling a pitcher who is cruising and has yet to get in trouble, and I will almost always hate when it seems like a plan is being followed just for the sake of following it. Woodruff was not only cruising but had just gotten Washington’s best hitters out on seven pitchers and was still touching 98 mph. Can’t let him face Cabrera, Suzuki, and Robles to try and make your “bullpen” game that much shorter? And he’s leading off the inning, so it’s not like you’re pinch-hitting for him in a big spot; you’re pinch-hitting for him to let Travis Shaw lead off the fifth. My hate for moves like this is probably irrational, but in a winner-take-all game, you should squeeze every advantage you can. And I just don’t think trading a cruising Woodruff for a leading-off Shaw is a very good deal. End of rant.
8:22—Shaw walks. Whoop-de-whoop. But this is more about Scherzer because when you’re walking Shaw, then the end is probably nigh.
8:23—Milwaukee has spent all game attacking early fastballs thrown in the zone. Grandal has seen two first-pitch fastballs and was all over both of them, one for a home run and one to the track. There is no melon-farming way that Scherzer throws him another first-pitch fastball in the zone. No. Way.
8:24—Scherzer throws him a first-pitch fastball in the zone. Grandal predictably jumps on it and smashes an absolute laser foul into the stands, then flashes a wry smile that clearly says, “I can’t believe he threw me another first-pitch fastball in the zone.”
8:26—After Grandal ultimately walks, Scherzer is faced with two on, one out and down 3-1 on the scoreboard. With Stephen Strasburg now warming in the bullpen, what remains of this frame is the most important inning of his season. And it must start with getting out Mike Moustakas.
8:27—Scherzer quickly gets Moose down 1-2 after he fouls off two in a row, and the crowd noise is rising.
8:27—And then another foul on high heat. And another. The crowd knows what has to happen and lets the world know. A hot shot down the first base line … Just foul!
8:27—I love baseball.
8:28—The Moose is a mouse and pops up on the infield. The roar is deafening for the appreciation of a great battle won.
8:30—I refuse to believe that Scherzer will let rookie Hiura do one single thing in this spot, after already looking helpless in his two strikeouts so far.
8:33—Four heaters. Sit. Down. Rook.
8:40—We have our third “Frenchy” of the broadcast.
8:42—Because the Nationals have been hacking and failing against Woodruff’s high heat all game, why not do the same thing against the soft-tossing Brent Suter?
8:43—Robles swings through an 86 mph fastball and looks like he thought it was 103. Hey Victor, that’s Brent Suter.
8:51—First and second, two outs and down by two with Turner at the plate, the man who provided the only source of offense for the Nats on the night. Go time, baby.
8:52—Can of corn.
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8:59—Strasburg is in and looks in prime form. Eight pitches, a double play, and a strikeout, and we’re all done here.
9:06—And Drew Pomeranz answers the bell! Adam Eaton lines out on the first pitch, followed by back-to-back strikeouts of Rendon and Soto. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. Through three at-bats, Rendon has looked absolutely lost.
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9:12—After Pomeranz strikes out, we get our fourth “Frenchy” of the night. Now we’re moving.
9:13—Fifth “Frenchy!” Followed by a pointless explanation?! The living room goes wild!
“We’re calling him Frenchy because everyone calls him Frenchy. No one calls him Jeff.”
Except Ron Darling, who called him Jeff two innings ago. I just get the feeling that Darling has zero time for French-based nicknames.
9:19—As we’re treated to a close-up of deposed starter Woodruff on the dugout railing, I suddenly realize that this red-bearded Woodruff looks like an evil version of Clayton Kershaw. And I love it.
9:20—Pomeranz continues to deal, and we start to get more crowd shots of sad fans. They feel it because we all feel it. If they couldn’t hit Woodruff or Suter or Pomeranz, then what in the sam hill are they going to do with Hader?
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9:37—Hader is now in, and he brought those beautiful locks with him. With the bottom of the order due up, the deck has been pristinely stacked, and thousands of fans feel it in their bones and in their souls.
9:39—With Ryan Zimmerman waiting on deck to pinch-hit for Strasburg, Robles has nothing for Hader, striking out even though Hader seems erratic.
9:40—Zimmerman is called back in favor of Michael Taylor, presumably because of the Nationals’ fear of Zimmerman injuring himself on the walk to the batting box.
9:42—Taylor gets hit, and now we have a little something going. One out, with Turner representing the tying run. Turner may look 14, but it’s time to put on the big boy pants.
9:46—Or an absolute monster strikeout by Hader.
9:48—Throwing caution to the wind, the Nationals risk letting Zimmerman walk to the plate. And he makes it!
9:49—Frenchy lets us know that the toughest thing Zimmerman needs to do is to calm down. Wrong. The correct answer is “avoid plantar faciatis.”
9:52—Baseball happens! Zimmerman keeps hope alive with a broken-bat blooper. His smile says he knows.
9:53—Two on, two out with MVP candidate Rendon at the plate. The same Rendon who’s looked lost all night. Seemingly choosing wrong in every at-bat as to when to be aggressive and when to sit back. And now he’s facing Hader and his nastiness, with everything on the line.
9:57—And Rendon locked in with one of the most exciting walks I’ve seen in a while. He refused to offer at any of Hader’s high stuff and took strikes that weren’t his pitches. And then calmly sat on something high and outside. Pro moves.
9:59—Two on, two outs, bases loaded, with 20-year-old Soto at the plate. Yes, he’s still only 20. But it doesn’t matter, and he’s all over a foul before taking something out of the zone. And then calmly ropes a ball to right. Its misplayed, the bases are clear, and the stadium erupts. The Nats are now up 4-3, all in the blink of an eye. I love baseball.
10:00—Soto gets tagged out on the basepaths and starts taunting Brewers before he’s even tagged.
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10:01—Is there nothing that Matthew McConaughey can’t do in his Buick?
10:02—Daniel Hudson is in, and I’ve seen this inning before. The Brewers have no chance.
10:03—Thames quickly strikes out, but Lorenzo Cain calmly hits a single up the middle. Looks like it’s up to Orlando Arcia and Ben Gamel!
10:05—Arcia and Gamel combine for three pitches and two outs. Done-zo.
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Winner (8th-Round Knockout): Washington Nationals
10:18—While interviewing hero Soto, Lauren Shihadi says, “So Juan, you had bases loaded with two outs … It was just like a No Fear T-shirt.”
I have many questions.