In the early hours of Thursday morning, Jamie Braidwood tuned in for the highly-anticipated Game 7 of Major League Baseball’s World Series. Instead he saw a tragedy, one of the worst individual performances of all-time, and a reminder of just how cruel team sports can be.
Humans are a generally an empathetic species. Even when it comes to sports, even when it comes to your rivals, sometimes failure is just too difficult to watch.
Take Liverpool’s Dejan Lovren for instance, and the recent embarrassment of his 26th minute substitution away at Tottenham Hotspur. Liverpool were 2-0 down and Lovren was culpable for both goals so Jurgen Klopp, Lovren’s manager, responded by removing him from the action. Clearly, enough damage had been done.
For a footballer, being substituted inside the first-half is as humiliating as it gets. But to be fair to Lovren, Liverpool went on to concede a further two goals. Both, as well, to individual mistakes. Football is a team sport. Lovren may have had a horrid first 26 minutes, but his teammates were not that much better. Lovren may have made two horrendous mistakes, but how many errors did his teammates make in the build up to them?
If you thought that was bad, if you thought that was too hard to watch, then look away now. Lovren may have lost Liverpool the game, but he didn’t cost them the league. He didn’t lose them a cup final. He certainly didn’t them football’s biggest prize, in their biggest game in 27 years.
In order to meet someone who really did cost his team that much, you need to meet Yu Darvish: the LA Dodgers’ starting pitcher on Wednesday night for Game 7 of their World Series against the Houston Astros, in what was the Dodgers biggest game since their last championship in 1988.
If you haven’t guessed already, things didn’t end up well for the Dodgers. Despite playing the decisive game at home, they lost 5-1 as Houston won their first ever championship.
Things especially didn’t end up well for Darvish. The Astro’s five runs all came in the first two innings, and all came from Darvish pitches. Even at the start of the second, it was clear that everything was going wrong. Darvish was making it all to easy for Houston, and already a replacement pitcher was being prepared. But in the end the change didn’t happen quick enough. Darvish’s last pitch of the night was to Houston’s George Springer, who knocked it out the park for a two-run home run. He’d only faced 10 batters. He’d conceded five scores.
Incredibly, this was only Darvish’s fourth start from the Dodgers’ 15 postseason matches, and only his seventh game for LA overall. He’d only joined the team in August, following a deadline trade from Texas.
How could a player who had only been there for a couple of months, who was so insignificant to the rest of the season, have such a devastating impact on his own team? To make things worse, Darvish’s previous appearance for LA also ended in disaster. It was also against the Astro’s, this time in Game 3, but again, Darvish didn’t even make it to the end of the second inning. By the time the starting pitcher had been called back, he’d already given up four runs and LA went on to lose 5-3.
As the LA Times writer Andy McCulloch later wrote: “The damage Yu Darvish did to the Dodgers in this series feels immeasurable.” The thing is though, is that Darvish, by all accounts, isn’t even that bad a pitcher, and was once rated as the best pitcher in Japanese baseball, prior to his move to the MLB.
The whole thing is a tragedy. It’s a tragedy for LA, it’s a tragedy for the Dodgers and it’s a tragedy for Darvish. He didn’t want to lose on purpose. He just ended up in the situation where he was brutally and publically exploited in Major League Baseball’s biggest and most important game. Although baseball is a team sport, the pitcher is left with the majority of the defensive responsibility. Darvish messed up badly, and ended up costing the series for everyone.
Wednesday night was Darvish’s last game for the Dodgers. He will return to Free Agency and will leave quietly, not to be missed by anyone in LA. How things could have been different, perhaps in a different world Darvish shutout the Astros, as the Dodgers went on to win their first championship in a generation. Darvish would have been the hero. He would have been rewarded with a contact. Now his presence would simply be a reminder of what he did.
It’s a reminder of just how cruel team sports can be.