Games » Texas RangersMay28
What Sean O'Sullivan accomplished
Once again, the Texas Rangers showed they are built to play in their own ballpark, beating the Royals as if they were a piñata at a kid’s birthday party. There wasn’t a lot to like in this game, but give Sean O’Sullivan his due. He kept throwing strikes. I’ve written that what a pitcher does after he gives up a home run tells you a lot about him. If he starts nibbling, you know the home run got to him mentally.
So if a pitcher gives up back-to-back home runs, at least he hung tough and kept pounding the strike zone. Sean gave up back-to-back-to-back home runs, so he must be as mentally tough as Chuck Norris in an action movie. It looked as though Sean was not getting the low strike at times, so on a day when he needed to keep the ball down, he was being forced to bring it up. On the other hand, the Rangers had the same umpire, and the Royals weren’t able to take advantage of the situation.
Sean put up some ugly numbers, but with the exception of Tim Collins (who appears to be contractually obligated to pitch in every game the Royals play), O’Sullivan saved the bullpen by going out and taking a beating for 5 2/3s innings. The pounding he took Saturday night might help the Royals win one Sunday afternoon.
Give him credit for that, at least.
A pretty good story
In the Houston Astrodome, they used to shoot off a cannon every time a member of the home team hit a home run. Some kid (I’ve forgotten his name) pitching for a visiting team gives up back-to-back-to-back homers, which brings the pitching coach out to the mound. The pitching coach tells the kid he needs to work slower.
“Will that help?”
“No, but they need more time to reload the cannon.”
The Rangers’ Nelson Cruz hit a home run, and the sound off the bat was distinctive, even in my family room. You hear about guys who produce a distinctive sound when the ball comes off their bats. I always thought it was because they hit the ball so hard. Former umpire Steve Palermo told me it was because those hitters were so good at putting the ball on the sweet spot.
I had never thought about it before, but it makes sense.
(I’ve written a few things in advance in case of an emergency, a time crunch, a hangover or a boring ballgame … and here’s one of them.)
In the book “Baseball Between the Numbers,” written by the guys at Baseball Prospectus, there is a chapter called “Did Derek Jeter Deserve the Gold Glove?” In that chapter, the authors cite an idea by Bill James called a “defensive spectrum.” In its original version (I guess there’s a newer one that may take care of my complaint, but let’s go ahead with the old one, because it makes a point), James listed the defensive positions by difficulty and decided that the least difficult position in baseball is first base.
This proves one thing conclusively: Bill James hasn’t played a lot of first base.
James based his opinion on “observation and from the tendencies of players to change positions later in their careers as their defense eroded.” What that means is a lot of old, hurt, fat guys wind up playing first … so how hard can it be?
Playing first base is not hard. You don’t have to move much, and if you’re lucky enough to have your team in the dugout on the first-base side, you don’t have to jog far to the place to where you’re not going to move much. Like I said, playing first is not hard. But playing first well is extremely complicated.
I went through a brief period of thinking I would become a first baseman, and I asked Russ Morman to teach me the basics. He began to explain my defensive responsibilities, and about 20 minutes later, I said, “%#@&! There’s a lot of stuff to do over here!”
For starters, with the exception of the catcher, nobody handles the ball more on defense than the first baseman. You can play a corner in the outfield and not touch a ball all day, but that won’t happen at first. The first baseman will make the entire infield better or worse. A good first baseman is like a good catcher: The skilled catcher allows the pitcher to throw all his stuff, even with a runner on third. The pitcher knows that a bounced pitch will be blocked.
The same goes for an excellent first baseman: He allows the other infielders to attempt difficult throws knowing that the ball won’t end up in the dugout. Probably the No. 1 thing a first baseman does for his teammates is handle short hops.
The first baseman also has a lot of positioning issues and has to deal with pickoff throws. The footwork around the bag is complicated (especially for a right-hander). He’s the cutoff man in the middle of the infield. He has to deal with foul pops in the stands and dugout. He has to master at least three types of throws (overhand, underhand and the “dart” throw, which just what it sounds like: a ball thrown like a dart for all the in-between throws). He has to hit a pitcher on the run to cover the bag. And he has to sell the calls to the umpire. Someone who handles all these responsibilities well makes everyone around him better.
And that’s gets us to Eric Hosmer.
Chris Getz said everyone else was talking about Hosmer’s bat, but he was excited to have Hosmer’s glove on the field. Apparently, Mike Aviles has been urged to at least attempt some of the double-play throws he’s been eating, now that Hosmer can take care of catching or at least knocking the ball down over at first.
Eric presents a big target, and as his footwork improves (apparently he’s working on it), he will present an even bigger target. Skilled first basemen shuffle their feet from corner to corner on the bag depending on the throw, extending their stretch by the width of the bag. We’ve seen Hosmer go up and maintain the bag, and we’ve seen him make good decisions about when to leave the bag. There were times when Billy Butler would stretch as far as he could and then let the throw go by because he was trying to stay on the bag. (The ball is always more important than the bag.)
Instead of a wild swipe off to the side, Hosmer gets low on short hops and tries to keep them in front. He plays as many as he can to the backhand side. (Backhand the palm is down and the hop tends to come up and stick, forehand the palm is up and the ball tends to pop out.)
OK. I could write an entire chapter on playing first base (I think I’ve already started it), but suffice to say that Hosmer is a big improvement at first base, and that means the entire infield is better than it was last year.
Hey, I was going to stop there, but I’ve got a couple more things that are too good not to include: I’m over at Russ’ house, and there’s a picture of him, front page of a Chicago paper when Russ was playing first for the White Sox and he and umpire Steve Palermo are screaming at each other. I asked what was up in that scene.
“He caught me cheating.”
Russ is laughing while he tells this story, but apparently Russ was trying to “sell” a call. The technique is to pop off the bag after every out at first and whip the ball around the horn. If a teammate needs a little help, you come off the bag early to catch the ball … which buys you a foot or two … and whip the ball around the horn, just like usual, except you weren’t on the bag when you made the catch. Russ tried this, and Palermo called the runner safe and said, “Kid, you ain’t been up here long enough to try that $#@&!”
Which set off the argument, even though Russ knew Palermo was right.
The other cool thing Russ told me about was “extending the runner” on an extra-base hit. When the runner rounds first, the first baseman casually backs up into the runner’s path. The runner naturally tries to avoid him by going around on the outfield side. The first baseman keeps backing up and the runner’s trip to second gets longer. Russ told me he had extended guys to the outfield grass without them being aware of what he was doing.
“What happens when they realize what you’re doing?”
Apparently, they try to run over you. They not only get payback, but get the next bag as well. As I’ve said before, lots of stuff going on out there.)