In a place long ago and far away, there was something called a complete game, a goal for starting pitchers to finish what they started.
New age baseball has dispensed with that quaint tradition.
The other day San Francisco and Los Angeles decided the National League Division Series playoff with a classic game won by the Dodgers 2-1. It was a compelling game played by two terrific teams, low scoring, good defense, not decided until the very last strike.
And they used a combined 11 pitchers.
That was just a warmup. The opening game of the Boston-Houston American League Championship Series went to the Astros 5-4. Again, it was a compelling game, perfect for the postseason.
And they used 16 pitchers.
This is what New Age baseball has given us. Starting pitchers are celebrated if they throw five innings. Analytics tell the brain trusts that letting a pitcher face opposing batting orders three times is bad baseball. This would be news to some of the great hurlers of baseball’s past generations. They took the ball in the first inning and gave it back in the ninth. Bullpens were occupied by used-up starters instead of the specialists teams now employ.
What would Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax and Mickey Lolich and a host of others, who have pitched complete games in the deciding games of World Series thought about coming out before the game was done?
Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver liked to tell a story about Gibson, his longtime batterymate with the Cardinals. The St. Louis ace was struggling a bit and McCarver came out to the mound to give him a breather.
“What are you doing here?’’ Gibson growled. “The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.’’
McCarver departed quickly, leaving Gibson to go about his business.
The classic modern era complete game came on July 2, 1963 when Juan Marichal dueled Warren Spahn over 16 innings that did not end until Willie Mays tagged Spahn for a home run. It seemed like they would pitch forever that day. They are both in the Hall of Fame for good reason.
There were 13 complete games in the Major Leagues this season, nine in the National League, four in the American. No pitcher managed more than three with Zack Wheeler, Adam Wainwright and German Marquez tying with that modest total.
The last time a pitcher had double digits in complete games was James Shields with 11 for Tampa Bay in 2011. That seems like forever ago compared to what is going on these days.