This was originally published in The Athletic...
In what would end up being Dusty Baker’s final appearance as the manager of the Reds – in the 2013 National League Wild Card Game – Johnny Cueto stood on the PNC Park mound having just surrendered a solo home run to Marlon Byrd that put the Reds in 1-0 second-inning hole against the Pirates.
As Cueto prepared to pitch to Russell Martin, a loud, ravenous Pittsburgh crowd, on hand for the home team’s first playoff game in more than two decades, threw its collective voice into a taunting, staccato chant that reverberated throughout the ballpark:
“KWAY-TO! KWAY-TO! KWAY-TO!”
Cueto, near his peak as one of the best pitchers in the game – even if his season had been often interrupted with injuries – and armed with both a lengthy track record of successful pitching in Pittsburgh as well as a reputation for calmness even in the most stressful situations, was visibly rattled as the intimidating mantra filled the night. So much so that before his first delivery to Martin, Cueto turned up the chant’s volume by dropping the baseball.
In that moment, which preceded the second homer of the inning in a season-ending game for the Reds, Baker’s pitcher didn’t need a deep statistical assessment of what pitch to throw next, or a shift into a defensive alignment dictated by hours of number-crunching. He didn’t need an advanced thinker sitting in the dugout calculating algorithms to determine which move should be next.
He instead needed a visit to the mound. Someone to break the tension, or lighten the mood with a joke. He didn’t need analytics, he needed a human being.
To read the entire piece, go to The Athletic.
(Photo: Getty Images)