The Rundown: Slider Didn’t Slide, Starlin Castro Didn’t Slide

Two outs, two strikes, two men up, two runs up in the top of the 9th. You can do literally anything in that situation except what Hector Rondon did. He had thrown seven sliders to that point, only one of which went for a strike. That’s fine if you’re burying them and/or inducing swings, which Rondon was not. He was all over the place and didn’t appear to have a feel for the pitch. Add to that he was facing a lefty batter when the wind was helping balls hit to right.

So with Brett Gardner in a 2-2 count, Rondon went once more to the slider after six fastballs Gardner had either watched or failed to square up. Hanging right there in the lower-middle of the zone, the pitch might as well have been on a tee. The former closer has been excellent for the most part this season and was only in the game because Wade Davis had thrown in three straight. But that’s still no excuse.

It’s one thing to be beaten, to make your pitch and have a hitter flat-out beat you. But it’s an absolute gut punch to see what had been a great game vomited up like a Hot Doug’s Manny Trillo after one too many Old Styles. Ah, but c’est la vie, I suppose.

Catchers are people too

Starlin Castro was back at Wrigley Field Friday afternoon and he was in full-on Starlin Mode, complete with a baserunning blunder that made for a pretty exciting play near the plate. Jason Heyward was able to turn his second double play of the game when Castro hesitated before trying to score on a tag-up. The Yankee second baseman was out by a mile, but chin-checked Willson Contreras with his shoulder on the way by.

Contreras fell to the ground and remained in a prone position for a bit before being checked out by Joe Maddon and trainer PJ Mainville. The catcher eventually got up and left the field under his own power, but there was concern at the time over his ability to remain in the game. It didn’t last long.

On the surface, this is purely factual. Contreras is indeed a catcher and he did indeed stay in the game. While I don’t think Muskat meant anything beyond the surface-level reference to the historical toughness of the rugged men who squat in the dirt act as blockades, I see something problematic about that characterization.

Unless you’re someone who bemoans the snowflake-ization of our society without a trace of irony, you can probably understand why we’re paying more heed to head injuries. Which is why I take issue when the folks with the greatest reach and responsibility in terms of relaying the game to the general public remain steeped in the notion that it was Contreras’s toughness that allowed him to stay in.

Not that I think Muskat was intentionally pushing that agenda — and it may even be something of a callback to something Jesse Rogers has said — but it’s at least a tacit approval of the “rub some dirt on it” mentality that has left so many aging athletes unable to perform daily tasks of living. Or worse. There’s also the conflicting ideas that certain positions are somehow better and worse at the same time.

Because it is held in such high esteem in professional sports, macho toughness finds its ultimate personification in the form of the catcher. You think a second baseman would stay in the game after taking such a blow? Let’s ask Fernando Vina. Or what about a pitcher? Those pantywaists would probably cry enough to save the grounds crew the effort of dampening the infield dirt between innings after the slightest collision.

But at the same time, we’re saying that catchers subsist on lower intellect, that it’s their grit and guts that allows them to bear down and press on. Head injury? You don’t need a brain to block a pitch in the dirt. Let the manager do the thinking. Besides, they’ve got all that padding.

You’re probably right, though, maybe I am thinking too hard about this. But I’d love to see us get to the point where we applaud the team’s training staff for maintaining a player’s health as the number one priority. The Cubs are big-time into injury prevention, not just rehab, so I have no doubt they appropriately assessed WillCo’s ability to play on. That’s not the case everywhere, though, as we’ve seen with the Mets’ Yoenis Cespedes, Matt Harvey, and Noah Syndergaard.

Sometimes a player needs to be helped from himself, and that includes those of us who try to hold them up to some antiquated standards of toughness and manliness. And even if you do loathe the wussification of our dearly beloved American ethos, you have to agree that you’d rather have your favorite players’ careers last as long as possible.

More news and notes

  • Adrian Gonzalez heads to the DL with forearm tendinitis
    • This is the first time he’s ever been on the DL
    • A-Gon immediately tweeted pic of MRI and disputed the diagnosis (not really)
    • Joc Pederson has been activated to take the roster spot
  • Zach Britton heads back to the DL with forearm issues, though there’s reportedly no structural damage
  • 41-year-old Eric Gagne has inked a deal with the independent Long Island Ducks
  • Fanatics Authentics has autographed Gold Collection hats


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