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Kindred: Bob Gibson a four-inning pitcher? He would be in Baseball 2021, and that’s a lot of bull(pens)

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In today’s 10 a.m. video, columnist Ben Hochman recalls Jack Flaherty available in the Cardinals’ bullpen in the wild-card game, while looking at the Dodgers’ decision to go with Julio Urias last night. And, as always, Hochman chooses a random St. Louis Cards card from the hat!

Bob Gibson could have pitched in any era of Major League Baseball. His talent and tenacity were transcendent.

Yet, here’s the thing about Gibson and the current version of the game we once loved. He could no longer pitch nine innings, or seven, or — in the postseason — even five.

Baseball 2021 won’t allow it. Analytics drive the game and, frankly, drive a lot of us crazy.

They would have had Gibson seething. A fierce competitor, he pitched 255 complete games in his Hall of Fame career. He went the distance in all nine of his postseason starts, posting a 7-2 record with a 1.89 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 17 walks.

As friend Willis Kern of Bloomington pointed out, Gibson surely is “rolling over in his grave” because of what’s happening in this postseason.

Obit Bob Gibson Baseball

In this Oct. 12, 1967, file photo, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson receives a congratulatory hug from catcher Tim McCarver after he pitched a three-hitter in the team's 7-2 victory in Game 7 over the Boston Red Sox to win the World Series at Fenway Park in Boston, Mass.

A “bullpen game” used to be a last resort for a team short on pitching. Now, it seems to be the goal, what with the short leash on starting pitchers.

Computers, analytics and front offices obsessed with them insist this is the way to go … let the starter go once through the order, twice if he’s lucky, then get him out of there. Limit his pitches and trot out a string of power arms from the bullpen.

Numbers can tell you a lot. Even an old-school, grumpy old man like me will acknowledge that. Numbers cannot measure how a pitcher is feeling or performing on a given night.

Those power arms are attached to people, not machines. The more you send into a game, the more likely one of them might not be right that night. Maybe the fastball isn’t “popping.” Maybe the slider is too flat. Maybe the sinker isn’t sinking.

So maybe — and this is blasphemy these days — you should leave in a starter whose pitches are working and has proven himself over a 162-game season or, in some cases, a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

St. Louis Cardinals vs Los Angeles Dodgers National League wild-card game

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Max Scherzer (31) leaves the mound after being pulled from the game by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts with two Cardinals on base in the fifth inning of the National League wild-card game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium.

The Dodgers’ Max Scherzer has made three starts this postseason and in two of them was pulled with one out in the fifth inning. He went eight innings in the other. Call it a Throwback Game.

Mind you, this is a guy with three Cy Young Awards, 190 career wins, a 3.16 ERA and 3,020 strikeouts. This season, he was 15-4 with a 2.46 ERA.

Yes, he’s 36. And yes, the Dodgers have a deep bullpen. But if he can’t be trusted to get past the fifth inning, who can?

Granted, there have been exceptions. In two postseason starts against the Dodgers, the Giants’ Logan Webb went seven innings in one and seven and two-thirds in the other.

Gibson would have been smiling, though he might have wondered, “Why not nine?”

Still, the norm is to see the starter in the dugout by the third or fourth inning, maybe the fifth. It is to the point that on Monday night, while watching the Red Sox pummel the Astros 12-3, there was an urge to stand up and high-five my wife when Red Sox starter Eduardo Rodriguez was allowed to go six innings and 97 pitches.

The urge was suppressed. Likely, she didn’t share my enthusiasm for Boston’s longest start of the postseason. That’s OK. Maybe you don’t either.

Maybe you’re fine with starters simply being “openers” and seeing a path worn from the bullpen to the mound. Maybe you embrace an era in which managers are managed more than ever by analytics-driven front office executives. Do it their way or do it elsewhere, if at all.

Gibson won the Cy Young and NL MVP awards in 1968 with a 22-9 record, 1.12 ERA, 28 complete games and 13 shutouts. He was the opener, closer and everything in between.

There is room for him in today’s MLB, but in moderation. Cy Young himself would be showering by the fifth inning, even with his 749 complete games. Bloomington native and Hall of Famer Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn would be as well despite 488 career complete games.

Even Ice Box Chamberlain, who completed 264 games from 1886-1896, would be searching for a beer in the clubhouse fridge by the fifth.

Experts tell us that through defensive shifts, launch angles, exit velocities and pitch counts, the game has “evolved.” We old-school folks are encouraged — actually, expected — to evolve with it.

Fine. But it’s going to take time and a lot of hard work to like the game we once loved.

Makes you wonder. Is it worth it?

COLUMN MUG Randy Kindred

Randy Kindred is a columnist and retired sports editor at The Pantagraph. Follow Randy Kindred on Twitter: pg_kindred


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