Thursday, October 18, 2012

On Baseball Slumps and Rained-out Games

Those few people who have read my baseball novel, In Front of Fifty Thousand Screaming People, know that the almost super-human feats of Ronny Thompson, ace pitcher for the Chicago Cubs, depends in part on rain delays. By the time the playoffs come around, Thompson seems to be the only Cubs' pitcher who can win a game. His normal rotation is to pitch every fourth day, but his manager bumps that up to every third day in the playoffs.

That begins in the NLDS. He pitches game 2 in Atlanta, then due to a rain delay he gets to pitch game 4 in Chicago to even the series at 2-2. After a day of travel, someone else is going to pitch game 5 in Atlanta. But, instead of a rain delay, it turns out major vandalism (terrorism?) had rendered the lights inoperable, along with the back-up system. Thompson then pitches the rescheduled game 5, and wins, propelling the Cubs into the NLCS against St. Louis.

Part of what Thompson and the Cubs are facing is a slump by their two best hitters, and a series of poor performances by their best relief pitcher, the man who usually comes on in the 9th and closes out the game. What has caused these slumps? Are they the natural result of the ebb and flow of any athlete's abilities? Some days you're hot, some days you're not? Or is it a case of bribery? The New York mobster who has bet against the Cubs is becoming more desperate, and he has associates more than willing to do his bidding. Bribing a few players is like old-time gangsterism. The Cubs' manager has a decision to make: Does he bench the slumping players?

The New York Yankees are experiencing this now. The slump by four of their starting hitters is deep, deeper in fact than the slump that the Cubs' stars sink into in the novel. And yesterday they experienced a rain delay. Now the manager has an extra option on the table as far as his starting pitcher tonight in the rescheduled game. Does he have an ace available tonight who wouldn't have been available last night?

Baseball is a good game for these kind of strategies. It's interesting to see the situation I wrote in the novel coming true in real life this playoff season.

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