In deflating loss to Cubs, one pitch changes a lot

Adam Morgan

Some pitchers throw hundreds, maybe thousands of pitches in one season. But sometimes, maybe unfairly, it’s just one pitch that defines their existence in the major leagues.

That’s how it went Wednesday night. Adam Morgan was brought into the ninth inning of a 5-3 lead over the Cubs. Chicago had two men on base, and immediately he walked the first batter he faced, pinch hitter Ian Happ. But then he pitched well to Ben Zobrist, and forced him into a weak groundout that kept Chicago from scoring. So one poor result and one good result.

Then, against Jason Heyward, he fell behind 2-0 before throwing a good first strike and a risky second strike that Heyward fouled off. That led to a minute of pauses – a run through signs, a mound visit. It seemed like the most important pitch of the season. It also seemed like it was taking far too long, with too many second guesses, to finish this game. But Morgan had his pitch. Jorge Alfaro was ready to receive it. He stretched. He pitched. And the fastball right down the Magnificent Mile was hit a magnificent mile into the Chicago night sky. Immediately the fans erupted. The ball was only halfway up at this point. It was over.

This kind of win might be said to turn around a team’s fortunes, sometimes defines an entire season. The Cubs were 33-24, definitely playing well but just now beginning to be the Cubs most experts figured they would be – the team that would coast with the National League Central crown in hand. The Brewers are still out in front, but on Wednesday it looked as if Chicago was about to blitz past everyone and stamp their place in the postseason.

Then there’s the Phillies. They’ve been scuffling a bit. The offense hasn’t produced. They were swept in San Francisco. Jake Arrieta got loud about shifts. Beat reporters got loud about podcasters. It seems the June swoon we all were fearing has already dropped us into our beds comatose. It’s June 7.

But the thing to remember here is it was one pitch. Yes, it was a critical pitch in a critical situation where the outcome could define the entire game. And it did. And how. But it was one pitch. And Adam Morgan didn’t make his pitch. Clearly.

This season Morgan is carrying a 3.45 ERA in 15.2 innings. You’d look at that and ask yourself why he was pitching in that big spot. Well, before Heyward hit his grand slam that ERA was 2.35. Relievers are your best friend one day, your sworn enemy the next, and numbers don’t really tell the story.

Last night I tweeted, more or less, that Morgan wasn’t a guy a contending team puts in that situation. I think that’s true – Morgan is supposed to get lefties out in crucial situations for this team, and what I see is a pitcher who does fine most of the time, but sometimes he just throws the wrong pitch or throws a pitch in the wrong location. The numbers (again, which don’t really tell the story) say that lefties – before Heyward – were 8-for-27 against Morgan. That’s an average of .296. Yes 27 at bats is a small sample, but we’re talking about relief pitchers used in very specialized spots, and so an average like .296 doesn’t work there. My eye tells me Morgan doesn’t work in that big spot. The stats seem to back that up.

And yet that happened. Morgan was in to face Heyward. But imagine if Heyward is a little late on that pitch? He skies it to right and Aaron Altherr catches it, and Morgan gets the save and we’re not talking about any of this. Meanwhile lefties are .285 against Morgan, which is still too high but it doesn’t mean anything to us because we didn’t see an example of a lefty hitting Morgan like that. But don’t you think Morgan might give up some bad hit later on? Maybe. Maybe not. The point is we only talk about this because Heyward squared up that ball and slammed it into the night.

Last night sucked, at least in the end. Altherr had tied the game with a big home run, then Dylan Cozens hit his first homer to give the Phils a lead in the ninth. And if the Phils win that game, we write about how this kind of win propels a team to being a contender all season, that they needed this big character win to show the Cubs and the league they weren’t going away. Instead Morgan gives up the grand slam, we’re writing about bad lefty splits and bemoaning a June that ends in a team being .500 … or worse.

So it was one pitch. One big pitch, considering the result, but one pitch nonetheless. Maybe today the Phillies rebound and it helps take the sting off Wednesday, or maybe they lose and we’re ready to turn in our fan cards for the year.

Hopefully we keep in perspective that one pitch can change a lot. But it doesn’t have to.

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