World Series Game 4: The split-second difference between Jonny Gomes and Matt Carpenter

Rob Carr

This should be a short article, buttressed by two 1,000-word explanations. It makes an obvious point, and there isn't a way to stretch that point for too far. But it's a point worth bringing up at least once every postseason.

Every postseason, you're treated to stories. Narratives. Heroes and goats, stories of managers who completely ruined everything, and tales of pitchers who just didn't have the mental fortitude to get that last out. I am guilty of peddling this stuff, of course. You want everything to mean something. And it usually does, in hindsight.

Sunday night was partially about Mike Matheny leaving Lance Lynn in to walk David Ortiz. In hindsight, boy, that didn't work out. Seth Maness gave up a blast to Jonny Gomes after the Ortiz walk, so even though it was probably more likely for Ortiz to hit a home run against Randy Choate than for Gomes to hit one against Lynn or Maness, we get to go back and scrutinize the entire sequence of pitching moves.

Let's look at the pitch Gomes hit.


Not going to lie. That was not a good pitch. It was the Boxing Helena of pitches, the Superman 64 of pitches. If cilantro could throw a pitch, it would look like that. That's 90 miles per hour, right down the middle of the plate. It was a pitch that deserved to be hit over the fence like few others. And that's the story of how Seth Maness did something wrong and how it ruined the Cardinals' night.

Let's take a look at another pitch, though, this one in the ninth inning. Koji Uehara was facing Matt Carpenter, who represented the tying run.


That pitch was just as awful as the one thrown by Maness. It's pretty much the same pitch, when you adjust for handedness. It was even a mile-per-hour slower. It was the Phantom Menace of pitches: indescribably awful but ultimately successful. Carpenter swung a split-second too late and popped it up. That's how close we came to forgetting about Seth Maness. That's how close Kolten Wong came to remaining a mostly anonymous rookie at the end of the Cardinals' bench.

This wasn't a complete fluke, of course. It's not fair to suggest that Uehara was lucky and that's the only thing that saved him. Carpenter was a split-second late because he was probably thinking about Uehara's dominating splitter. It's one of the best pitches in baseball, so good that bad fastballs get good results, occasionally.

And why pick on Uehara? I'll bet you could freeze-frame your way through every baseball game like this. The homers that are hit become the story; the homers that aren't become souvenirs or outs.  Seth Maness is the goat. Koji Uehara is the effective closer.

But once every postseason, take a second to remember that baseball is a series of split-second decisions and nervous systems executing micro-fine physical movements based on those commands. Over a 162-game season the difference between successful and unsuccessful baseball players might be seven more successful executions out of every 100, and the difference between success and failure is often measured in millimeters and nanoseconds. Over a seven-game series, the difference could be just one properly executed pitch-recognition-to-perfect-swing command.

Matt Carpenter is not a hero. Jonny Gomes is. They both got the perfect pitch to hit, but only one of them could turn on it. This means nothing, except it means the World Series is now a best-of-three, with home-field advantage shifting back to Boston, which means everything. But mostly, nothing. It's just another example of how baseball is making this whole thing up as it goes along. It kind of makes the narratives pointless.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to write about how hilarious it is that Mike Matheny didn't have a quicker hook with Lance Lynn. What was he thinking? Probably cost him the game.

More from Baseball Nation:

Even more ridiculous ways to end a baseball game!

World Series Game 4: Mike Matheny’s short memory

World Series Game 3: Hey, maybe catch the ball first?

On the Game 3 obstruction call

So when are the Cardinals going to develop a shortstop?

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