Games » Arizona DiamondbacksJun22
Down by one run, bottom of the ninth inning, two outs and Chris Getz came to the plate to face J.J. Putz. You often will see Chris take a pitch or two when he’s just trying to get on base, but Putz was getting it up there in a hurry (he topped out at 97 mph last night) and has a “put-away splitter.” Chris has told me you can’t afford to take what may be the only hittable pitch from a dominant closer, so Chris was hacking.
Chris fouled off three straight fastballs then finally got the splitter he had been dreading. So of course he got an infield single off of it. (I’ve suggested to Chris that he’s at his best when he doesn’t actually hit the ball all the way to a fielder … and he kind of agrees.) So now Chris was on first, representing the tying run with Melky Cabrera at the plate.
The Diamondbacks starter, Ian Kennedy, got the ball to the plate in 1.1 seconds, so he was able to shut down the Royals running game. Putz, like many closers, doesn’t worry so much about the running game and just concentrates on the hitter. Which is probably why he gets the ball home in 1.7 seconds. I think they time him with a sundial. With those numbers, second base was almost a lock, so Chris took off, stole it easily, and the tying run was now in scoring position.
With two outs, many ballplayers would have stayed put. The run was already a hit away, so why go to third?
First base was open, and even though Melky respresented the game-winning run, the Diamondbacks didn’t appear that intent on throwing strikes to him. Their thinking was to put the veteran on base if he won’t chase and go after the rookie, Eric Hosmer. Chris saw what was happening and figured that if he could steal third (remember that 1.7 time home), that would open second base. And with Melky on first, the Diamondbacks would have to hold him on. And that would give Hosmer, a left-handed hitter, a hole to hit through when he came to the plate.
(I’m sure there are some knuckleheads playing who have no idea how many outs there are, but for the most part, when you get to talk to big-league players you’re impressed with their thought processes.)
So Chis takes off, and Putz gets lucky and shortens his delivery on that pitch. The play at third was closer than he intended, but Chris was safe. So the Diamondbacks walked Melky, and Royals manager Ned Yost sent Jarrod Dyson out to pinch-run for Melky and steal the base. Ned said he thought Melky could steal it, but he was sure Dyson would.
So Dyson took off, and Hosmer hacked at the first pitch and popped it up. Game over. The best-laid plans of mice and men, etc.. After the game, Ned said Eric made a big mistake by hacking at the first pitch with Dyson running. Yost wanted Eric to take a pitch, get the winning run in scoring position and then go to hitting.
Hosmer wasn’t on the same page. His thought process was, “Don’t get greedy. Get the game tied up by driving in the runner on third, and don’t fall behind to Putz and his put-away slider.” Getz was thinking open a hole for Eric. Ned was going to close the hole by having Dyson steal.
Either thought process seems fine, but everyone probably ought to be on the same page.
There’s a reason I called this thing a “ninth-inning breakdown.”
Two instances of heads-up base running
Chris Getz went from first to third in the third inning because he took a look around. He saw that the Arizona right fielder was slightly in the gap, so when the ball was hit to his left, Chris knew that Justin Upton would be moving laterally and away from third. That meant a weak throw. It’s this kind of thinking that separates the people who play ahead of the game from the people who always seem to be a step behind.
Chris’ base running meant he got to third and was able to score on Hosmer’s double-play groundball that followed.
Alex Gordon got points for heads-up base running for not advancing a base. He was on second, the ball was hit sharply to his right, and he froze to check the shortstop. A lot of runners screw this up. They take off hard for a couple of steps, then realize that the shortstop has the ball. A ball hit in front of the runner at second with no force has to clear the infield before the runner can head to third base. (You can see Royals third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez remind runners of that by lifting his left arm and pointing under it with his right forefinger. That means “make the ball go through.”) It’s amazing how many times you see big-leaguers mess this up.
How to see a baseball
They have been playing this game a long time, and some pretty smart guys have figured out the best way to do everything, including seeing a baseball. Seeing the ball is the most important part of hitting, and hitters often will take it for granted and then pay the price.
So how do you see a baseball?
When a hitter is waiting in his stance, you almost always see some small motion. Waving the bat, swaying, anything to keep the body in motion. It’s like a car idling before it takes off. At that point, the hitter is in broad focus. He’s looking out at the pitcher and not focusing on anything in particular.
Once the pitcher starts his windup, the hitter goes into fine focus. This involves taking a deep breath, which gives the brain a fresh shot of oxygen, and shifting the eyes to the window, which is the expected release point for the pitch. Tony Gwynn was so good at this he could see the grip the pitcher was using to throw the ball. (I tried the same thing and saw an interesting collection of blurs.)
When a hitter says he was picking up the ball well, he means he was seeing the release point and tracking the ball all the way. If you miss the release point or don’t focus soon enough, the ball will appear to jump on you more quickly. And that brings us to Joakim Soria.
Watch Soria’s windup, and you’ll see him slide the ball up his side, out of sight of the hitter. Soria also will use his body to shield the hitter’s view of his glove. Joakim doesn’t want to tip any pitches by something he does with his free hand or glove, so he keeps everything out of sight for as long as possible.
Once again, watching Soria’s windup is instructive. The hitter does not see the ball until late in Joakim’s delivery, and that disrupts the fine focus the hitter needs to see a ball well. It’s why hitters react as if Soria is throwing the ball harder than he is. They see it late, and that makes them react late.
I can tell you how to see a baseball. Soria will show you how hard it can be.