Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Unintentional Intentional Walk

Here’s the situation: you, the manager, have first base open, and really don’t want your pitcher facing their batter. Instead of being a man, wiggling your four fingers, and telling your catcher to get up from his crouch to call for the intentional walk, you ask your pitcher to throw four balls that are close enough to the plate that the batter may make a stupid mistake and make an out. Which leads to the following problem: when a pitcher isn’t focused on making a good pitch he often misses and puts one of these “balls” belt-high and over the plate.

If you watched the College World Series last night, this exact play came up. UCLA lost the national championship because in a tie ballgame in the bottom of the 11th inning, a runner on third and one out, the pitcher tried to unintentionally intentionally walk (UIBB) their batter, and left a 2-0 pitch over the plate. See you next year.

Most of you probably saw a different UIBB last night. Big Game James Shields (I love calling pitchers who have lost their last seven starts “Big Game”) was locked in a 0-0 game in the 5th and had two outs, with runners at 2nd and 3rd, and Papi, who is a career .393 hitter against Shields, at the plate. I think I’ll let Big Game describe what happened next:

I told [manager Joe Maddon] I wanted to face Ortiz, but I wasnít going to throw anything over the dish. I was going to try intentionally unintentionally walk him. I was trying to throw a fastball about a foot off the plate, just kind of show him the fastball and I ended up yanking it right down the middle. I donít even know how I did it.

One unintentional intentional “ball” later it’s 3-0 Sox. What happened next for Youk (who is a .107 hitter off Shields)? Called strike, foul, swinging strike.

So the next time you want to walk somebody, just wiggle those four little fingers and let your catcher do the rest. You’re not fooling anybody, certainly not the batters.

posted by Matt at 3:47 pm  

Monday, June 28, 2010

3-2-1 Splash Down!

When Bud Selig saw this year’s interleague play schedule he must have been drooling over two possible matchups: Strasburg vs Greinke and Lester vs Lincecum. Who knows, maybe he was a genius and was looking forward to Edwin Jackson vs. Jeff Niemann, but I kinda doubt it.

If you listened to the usher I stood next to in the first inning then “Lester looked hittable.” If an infield single, two stolen bases and a RBI groundout is defined as “hittable” then sure. But using that scale, Lincecum was batting practice.

Before Lincecum was pinch hit for in the third inning he gave up a splash-down homer to Papi that may have killed a kayaker in the bay on its way down (honestly, it left that bat so high and was gone so fast that I think it entered the stratosphere and was on fire on the way down), and almost gave up a grand slam to Lester. How bad was Lincecum? He gave up a single AND a double to Bill Hall.

Opposite Lincecum, Lester’s performance was spectacular. He was in command the whole game. After the Sox gave him the lead in the 2nd, he just went on cruise control and demolished the Giants hitters. He got them swinging, he got them looking and most importantly he did it for nine innings. There are two defining characteristics of an ace: that he has dominant stuff, and that he can be counted on to stabilize the pitching staff. After Tito looked played the role of a Little League manager on Saturday, trying to make sure that every kid got a chance to pitch, the Sox needed at least seven innings from Lester. I’d say that the complete game proves once and for all that he truly is the ace of this staff.

Even with the Gay Pride Parade a couple of blocks away, all was not fairy tales and rainbows at AT&T Park on Sunday. The media learned that Victor Martinez broke a bone in his thumb after taking a couple of foul tips of the edge of his glove. Please, somebody remind me to tell the Sox players to “have a good game” instead of “break a leg.” First Pedey, then Buchholz and now V-Mart? I think that Bud Selig’s new system for equalizing the playing field of “win a game, lose a player” is going to backfire on him pretty quickly.

Even though there are still 85 games left in the season, the Sox are able to leave San Fran knowing that for the first time since Opening Night they are in the Wild Card lead. Who could have imagined that even a month ago? Maybe I need to watch these guys in person more often.

 
posted by Matt at 10:29 am  

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Who Needs a Starter?

There are a couple of ways to look at yesterday’s game. On the one hand Buchholz pulled up lame in the 2nd inning and the Sox only had one baserunner after that. Considering that it was only a few hours earlier that we learned the true condition of Pedroia’s foot, I was getting pretty sick of the Giants and their hexes. On the other hand, the Sox bullpen put up the best performance I’ve seen since Flanagan/Williamson/Olson for the Orioles on July 13, 1991. (Old joke, how many Orioles does it take to throw a no-hitter? Four).

The Sox pen really put on a show. Eight innings while giving up two runs, and they had to use practically everybody. The only pitcher who didn’t make it to the mound was Fabio Castro, and let’s be honest, how many of you even knew he was on the 25 man roster yesterday? Even Papelbon made it through a scoreless inning. Come to think of it, maybe the Sox should have put Delcarmen at 2nd and Bill Hall on the mound.

But wins on the west coast are hard to come by. So for once, and I mean once, I’ll take the half-full approach. That and the fact that Buchholz may be able to make his next start.

posted by Matt at 8:34 pm  

Friday, June 25, 2010

Enjoying the San Fran Summer Heat

There’s an old Mark Twain quote that says “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.” You know what can make it colder though? Watching your best player fall down in a heap after fouling a ball off his left insole. Believe it or not, watching injuries live is worse than from home. At home you get 45 replays with 12 angles to try to piece together what exactly happened and convince yourself that it’s not so bad. Live, you just get your imagination as Pedey writhers in the batter’s box in pain.

So what can make his six week DL stint worse? Try fielding like the keystone cops and leaving 13 men on base. The Sox left the bases loaded in the 6th, 7th and 9th, and left runners at 2nd and 3rd in the 8th. All they needed was a little base hit to warm us up. Instead Old McDonald stranded SIX runners in his last three plate appearances. I know that we shouldn’t have expected much, if any, run support since Wakefield was pitching, but THIRTEEN men in FOUR innings? It takes skill and some hatred from the BABIP gods to strand that many guys. And don’t blame the weather. We were freezing up in the nosebleeds with 50 degree weather, mist and 20mph winds, but I still saw Youks sweating.

So now we get to see how the Sox will respond. Not just to the 13 LOB, but also to needing Bill Hall to play daily. Because having an OF of Nava/Cameron/McDonald isn’t bad enough. Right now I think Hall’s averaging one hit for every error, which is going to make him the next Julio Lugo. (If Lugo was nicknamed H1N1E6 then Hall is going to be H1N1E1E4E5E6E7E8E9. Not terribly catchy.) We are in SF though, think the Sox can borrow Willy Mays until August?

posted by Matt at 11:50 pm  

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Father’s Day at Fenway

Note: I know this is a few days late, but Kim and I went on a tour of ballparks right after Sunday’s game so I’m just getting to post this now. Pedroia’s 3 HR laser show last night may have been more interesting though…

Father’s Day requires two things (besides a child or a Dad): brunch and a ballgame. For this Father’s Day, Kim and I decided to treat our dads to both. For some reason, I doubt you care about the brunch.

For my Dad and I, it seemed especially appropriate to combine Father’s Day and baseball, since my Dad taught me to keep score before I could spell my name. We’d already hit up Wrigley for a previous Father’s Day, so there was only one stadium that could trump that experience. What Dad needs a tie when he can look out over the field from the tiny slits inside the Green Monster? Or attempt to get vertigo from the seats above it? (BTW, the Monster seats really don’t give you a great view. The only reason to shell out the money for them is to say you sat on the Monster. And maybe a HR ball…) Inside the Monster we both got to act like 10 year olds. “What’s this? How does this work? Why did Rachel Madow get to sign? How about if we take a picture like this?” We even got to spend an hour doing the most perfect Father’s Day activity, watching the rain cancel early BP. Every dad’s dream.

Sadly, he didn’t enjoy the game as much. Since he’s a Dodger fan, none of the games were good for him. In a nostalgic kind of way, the first inning for the Sox was perfect since it one of the most complicated innings I’ve had to score. Two base hits (neither out of the infield), one error, one intentional walk, TWO wild pitches, a force play at home and only a single run.

Buchholz was impressive in that “wow he looks like crap, but keeps getting outs” kind of way. Two years ago, he probably doesn’t make it out of the third. He had about 30 pitches after one inning, and routinely started off batters 2-0. But he threw just enough strikes (or Matt Kemp hacked at enough balls) to pitch 6 2/3 scoreless. Bard and Paps did the rest. To be honest, the Sox should have been able to pound Kuroda (who was making his first start off the DL), but a win is a win.

So Dad, thanks for the Monster, thanks for teaching me to keep score, and thanks for the Sox wins. Maybe next year I’ll just get you a tie and a Dodger win, but I’m guessing you still liked this better.

posted by Matt at 6:19 pm  

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Spelunking the Monster

I’ve been to a number of great games at Fenway. In 2003 I went to game 4 of the ALCS. In 2006 I was at the only close game from the Boston massacre (it was s good game even though the Sox lost it in the 10th). But today was the best. Try as he might, even Bill Hall couldn’t ruin it.

If you ever are lucky enough to get a press pass, get to the game early. I don’t mean batting practice early, I mean at least four hours before game time early. You see, as soon as batting practice starts, the stadium belongs to the players. Beforehand, it can be your stadium. (Sorry Mr. Henry.) Imagine going to a park on a lovely afternoon, sitting on a shady bench and just enjoying yourself. That’s what I did, except that my bench was the visiting dugout. And trust me, no public park in the US is as pretty as Fenway.

After a half-hour or so, I decided to take a little stroll in the park. By this point Dice-K was throwing a simulated game. Normally this means you should beware of batted balls, but this was Dice-K. I think he’s the first pitcher ever to get pulled from a simulated game. If I had to guess his line probably would have been 4.1 innings, 6 walks. Yeah, that good. And he starts this Thursday in Colorado!

So I wandered down the left field line with my Dad, and headed to the Monster. I’m sure you’ve all seen it on TV, but holy crap it’s big. You can’t really understand the size until you stand at the base and realize that you couldn’t even jump to the top of the scoreboard if you were Lebron James.

Entering the Monster is exactly what you’d expect though. It’s dark, it’s cramped and there are green and white numbers hanging on every wall. If you’re curious, the numbers aren’t repainted every year, some of the numbers and team names are over 30 years old. Before I left, I made sure to ask if I could use his bathroom but was told that there was none. Which completely debunks the myth about what Manny did in there during pitching changes. Never mind, I don’t want to know.

By the time I left, batting practice was in full effect. Our nice calm park was longer. Now we had to play dodgeball to walk back to the dugout. Sadly they don’t hand you a glove for protection when you leave the Monster.

The game itself was also the best I’d seen at Fenway. Bill Hall sucked. Bill Hall sucked. (Once for each of his atrocious errors). Although maybe without his errors, the game wouldn’t have been so close. Wake pitched very well, and thanks to the hoards of Dodger fans there was a playoff buzz in the stadium. Of course the key was Pedroia taking Broxton’s 1-2 pitch to right field for a walkoff single with two outs in the 9th. Watching a walkoff celebration for your team is great, watching Darnell McDonald try to take it literally and carry Pedroia off the field is even better. I’ve got to hand it to Gordon Edes, he called the game perfectly. Beforehand he kept saying “Manny is going to take Wakefield deep, but the Sox will still win it.” Thanks Nostradamus.

Today was the day I owned Fenway. I couldn’t have picked better one.

posted by Matt at 8:22 pm  

Friday, June 18, 2010

Welcome Back

Miss me? I’ve missed all of you. I know, the blog disappeared without a bang, mostly due to the fact that my full time job ate into the time I normally spend ripping and praising the Sox on the intertubes. I promise I’m not writing because the Sox have crawled out of the pseudo-gutter (the Orioles aren’t even a major league team anymore, so fourth place in the AL East really is the gutter). I’m writing because I finally made it back to Fenway.

The Sox are not only a hard ticket, they’re also a hard press credential. But this time I had a friend who was going to be in town the same weekend. So I just picked up the phone, called Manny and voil√†! Press pass!

Fenway is one of the coolest stadiums in baseball because of its quirks. I don’t know if the quirks are as entertaining for the press, but I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the players are right next to you and you don’t even know it. The visiting clubhouse is accessible through the concorse. And it’s SMALL. I mean, fricking tiny. Imagine a medium sized studio apartment, add lockers on every wall, and a couch in the middle. Apparently when the MFY come to town, there’s no couch. Honestly, zero furniture.*

From there you go through a small tunnel and emerge to bright sunlight, cameras and a lot of groans. “Shit, you’re not Manny!”. Was it the lack of dreadlocks that gave me away? And despite everybody’s disappointment that you are not the same guy who has 29 career postseason home runs, you’re suddenly standing on the same ground as Williams, Yaz, Pesky and Lugo. It’s a boyhood dream come true. And just as you start to get into the moment Manny comes jogging out, the press goes nuts and it’s mayhem. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

Manny’s official return was even more interesting. I expected one of two results: either a lot of cheering, or a lot of booing. But regardless, I thought we’d see Manny acknowledge the crowd. I had my camera on him. He walked out from the dugout to start the inning, the crowd cheered. He took his warmup swings, he heard some boos. He walked up to the plate, stepped into the box, and swung at the first pitch. The crowd was a little shocked. Cheers or boos, tip your fucking cap to the crowd. Give us that much. But I guess I shouldn’t really be that surprised. That was always Manny, off in his own world. He probably didn’t mean to slight the fans, but he just doesn’t know any better.

And since Doubront managed to do just well enough to let the offense crush the Dodger pitchers, we can’t really complain. Remember, the Sox are now only a single game back of the MFY and Devil Rays, and are 13 games over .500. But if you’re still pissed off at Manny, he tried to make it up to you with that called third strike to end the game. Just Manny being Manny.

* As much as I’d like to tell you it’s because the Sox hate the MFY, it’s actually because they have too many press.

posted by Matt at 6:01 pm