On Wednesday night Wade Davis was brought into Game 4 of the Chicago Cubs’ National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals with the bases loaded in the eighth inning.
Three pitches later, Davis gave up a grand slam.
The Cubs lost 5-0 and that sent the series back to Washington, D.C.; the winner of Game 5 would go on to face the Dodgers for the National League pennant.
On Thursday night Cubs manager Joe Maddon called on Davis once again; this time with two runners on and two outs in the seventh inning. The Cubs had already gone through six pitchers and Maddon was asking Davis for a seven-out save.
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Afterwards, Maddon asked what difference it made if he asked his closer for six outs or seven outs, but that was probably a bit disingenuous; to get seven outs Davis would have to endure two up-downs, pitching then sitting, then pitching again.
Maddon was asking for a lot.
Emotions usually don’t help
One of the reasons the Royals took Kelvin Herrera out of the closer’s role and replaced him with Mike Minor is that Herrera seems to let his emotions affect him and Minor doesn’t seem to have a pulse.
The best closers don’t let emotions get in the way; they focus on the task at hand.
If Wade allowed part of his mind to dwell on giving up a grand slam on Wednesday night, he wouldn’t be 100 percent focused on executing the next pitch on Thursday night. Pitchers who show emotion — frustration, anger or apprehension — are letting their minds wander and are more likely to make a mistake.
When he’s at his best, Wade Davis doesn’t have that problem.
On Thursday night Wade punched out Ryan Zimmerman, ending the seventh inning, and walked off the mound like he was auditioning for the part of Zombie No. 2 on the Walking Dead.
No celebration; the job wasn’t over.
Repeating a delivery
Not long before the 2017 season ended, Royals reliever Brandon Maurer was brought in to pitch and started his outing by throwing an upper-90s fastball on the outside corner at the knees; a nearly unhittable pitch. But Maurer could not repeat his delivery and hit that same spot again. It’s one of the reasons Maurer can be inconsistent.
If a pitcher can’t repeat his pitching mechanics with precision, over and over, he doesn’t know where the ball is going.
On Thursday night Wade started the eighth inning by walking two batters and even though he was exhibiting all the emotions of a man in a medically induced coma, later admitted he was too amped up and that was affecting his timing and mechanics.
After a mound visit, Wade got a double-play ground ball and had two outs, a runner on third and the guy who hit the grand slam the night before — Michael A. Taylor — at the plate.
The first pitch after a delay
Wade’s first pitch to Taylor was a 94 mph fastball above the zone and somehow Cubs catcher Willson Contreras didn’t get a glove on it. Cross-ups usually happen with a runner on second base; the pitcher and catcher have to use a more complicated series of signs so the runner on second doesn’t peek in and pass along what he sees to the hitter.
In this case, the runner was on third, but Contreras still acted like he thought a different pitch was coming, so that 94 mph fastball smacked home plate umpire Jerry Layne right in the face mask.
Layne staggered back like he’d taken a right cross to the chin, which is pretty much what happened. Face masks help, but it still feels like you held a sofa cushion over your face while taking a solid punch to the head. As one former big-league catcher said: it rearranges your furniture.
Layne kept his feet, but there was a long delay while the trainers looked at him and long delays between pitches are rarely good for pitchers.
One of the criticisms of Royals catcher Salvador Perez is that he wants the trainers to come out every time he takes a foul tip. If Salvy’s really rocked, that’s a good idea, but if it’s not that bad those delays don’t help his pitchers.
After Layne took a standing eight-count, Wade threw a cutter, Taylor hit a RBI single up the middle and the Nationals were within one run.
One batter later, Contreras picked a runner off at first base and the game moved to the ninth inning.
When Wade was still pitching for the Royals, he once said he would not throw a curveball to Miguel Cabrera. Wade said Cabrera kept his head still and saw the curve too well. If Wade threw the curve for a ball, Cabrera would take it; if Wade threw it for a strike, Cabrera would smoke it.
With two outs in the ninth inning — one out away from the Cubs’ third straight trip to the NL Championship Series — Wade started Bryce Harper with a cutter. Harper swung and missed. Later, Wade said it was a very aggressive swing and he hoped Harper would stay that aggressive.
Look at the final pitch of Thursday night’s game and you’ll see why.
When a hitter swings really hard his head moves and if his head moves, he has a hard time tracking a breaking pitch. Good pitchers read swings; those swings can tell a smart pitcher what to throw next. With the count full Wade threw another cutter, Harper took another aggressive swing, missed for strike three and wound up looking down the right-field line.
Harper couldn’t see the pitch, much less hit it.
Wade lets it all hang out
After the game with the champagne flowing, Ben Zobrist said Wade had “ice in his veins.” Anthony Rizzo said Wade was: “Stone cold. He doesn’t have a heartbeat.”
But that’s when he’s pitching and the game’s on the line.
After Wade struck out Bryce Harper, he finally let his emotions out; he bent over, screamed and slapped his pitching hand in his glove three times. That might be the last time Wade shows emotion until the next time he has cause to celebrate.
It’s not as much fun watching Wade Davis do his thing in a Cubs uniform, but if somebody’s got to win it might as well be an ex-Royals and a good guy.
The Cubs now meet the Dodgers for the National League championship and don’t be surprised if “Stone Cold” Wade Davis does it again.