Games » Boston Red SoxJul26
Playing the odds
Next time you get to a ballgame on the early side, carefully watch batting practice. You will see something amazing: Coaches in their mid-50s throwing pitches with nothing on them right down the middle and they’re getting big-league hitters out!
Don’t get worked up about the crack of the bat and the tee-shot trajectories. Watch where the ball lands, and you will see how many outs there are in BP.
And that gets us to my new favorite pitcher, Mitch Maier.
Mitch was throwing so slowly that MLB.com’s “Gameday,” which identifies pitches and their velocities, misidentified his fastballs as changeups. His hardest pitch was 81 mph. He probably was as nervous as a cat and just trying to throw the ball down the middle (although he did try a backdoor curve on David Ortiz, which made Ortiz laugh).
So guess which Royals pitcher was the only one to throw an inning without a walk? Guess which pitcher worked ahead of three of the four batters he saw? Guess which pitcher now has a lifetime ERA of 0.00? (Dude, stop while you’re ahead. I’m begging you.)
Until someone comes to the plate hitting .501, the most likely thing a hitter will do when he swings a bat is make an out. Play the odds, throw strikes.
Hitting is timing
The reason Mitch got away with what he did is the same reason Bruce Chen gets away with what he does and Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield gets away with what he does: Hitting is timing. You can go over a major-league hitter’s bat speed (tough to do) or under (much easier).
Lack of velocity is also why Boston’s Dustin Pedroia couldn’t take Mitch over the Green Monster for a home run to complete the cycle: Mitch just doesn’t throw hard enough to generate the energy necessary. Pedroia was doing most of the work.
Maier’s outing saved the bullpen and set things up for tomorrow (you hope). The pen got used up Monday night, and when Tuesday starter Danny Duffy couldn’t get out of the fourth inning, Royals manager Ned Yost went to Nate Adcock, a long reliever. When Nate blew up, that meant there weren’t enough innings left down in the pen, so Mitch got the call.
Two types of games
On Monday, we saw a Royals-type game: good pitching, good defense and a score low enough that the Kansas City needed only two runs to win. On Tuesday, we saw a Red Sox-type game: a slugfest. The goal of any team is to figure out what works best based on the park it plays in and then try to make the opponent play that type of game. The Royals want to force the Red Sox out of their strategy: taking pitches, working walks and then letting the boppers bop.
On Monday night, the Royals were able to do that. On Tuesday, they couldn’t. Series tied 1-1. Stay tuned to see what develops tonight.
A variety of other stuff
I once asked Nate Adcock how often he threw on the side, and he said about three times a week. When I mentioned I hadn’t seen him in a game in a while, he said I didn’t want to. “I’m long relief. If I get up, something bad is happening with the starter,” Nate said. If last night was any indication, truer words were never spoken.
Matt Treanor kept the Royals’ second inning alive by not advancing. The bases were loaded, and Melky Cabrera lined out to short. Boston shortstop Marco Scutaro threw to second base to double off Treanor, but Matt got back in time.
It’s really hard to not take a couple steps in the wrong direction on a line drive. The trick (and from Matt’s reaction, I assume this is what he did) is to look around and recognize where everyone is standing. (There’s a sign players use to remind one another to do just that: They point at both eyes and then swirl a finger in the air, as if to say, “Look around.”)
If you know where everyone is standing, you don’t have to turn to see the play. If the shortstop is just off your right shoulder and a line drive is hit into that area, you know you’ve got a problem and shouldn’t advance. Matt not getting doubled off second base to end the inning allowed Billy Butler to come to the plate and hit a two-run double.
Jeff Francoeur, on the other hand, made a base-running mistake Monday night, and I need to go back and add it to his totals. He missed a sign on Mike Aviles’ suicide-squeeze play. That is not something I can always score accurately. Unless it becomes apparent, I don’t know when a player has missed a sign. Frenchy confessed, and like all systems of justice, is now being punished for his honesty.
Speaking of base running, the Green Monster and that corner that sticks out down Fenway Park’s left-field line makes for some crazy base running. Doubles turn into singles, and base runners might not be able to score from second base on a hit to left field. That might account for some of the decisions we will see in the next two games.
Danny Duffy is still working on his delivery time to the plate and was slow enough that his catcher, Matt Treanor, had no opportunity to throw out Boston’s Darnell McDonald. I also don’t think Duffy is a ’reader’ (a left-handed pitcher who can pick his foot up, “read” what the runner is doing and then make the decision to go to first or home). But Bruce Chen is a reader, and that’s something to watch for when Chen starts tonight.
One more story about Mitch’s outing. The other day, the Royals had the opposite problem. They were running out of position players and sent Kyle Davies up to the clubhouse to put on his spikes in case they needed a base runner. The next day, I asked Kyle if he wanted to run or was a little nervous about it.
“Run? I wanted to hit!” Kyle told me. So the moral of the story is position players want to pitch and pitchers want to hit … and over-the-hill cartoonists want to climb the outfield wall.
Can’t anybody be satisfied with what they have?
The clutch player
Sports movies are ruining sports. We’ve all seen the sports movie clichés. The manager gives a fiery speech, and the team plays well. The athlete picks himself up after being knocked down and decides this time he’ll try really hard. Little Timmy is sick? Why, I’ll hit a home run for him!
Reality is a bit different.
Managers will tell you that speeches might nudge a team in the right direction, but it doesn’t mean jack without the talent to back it up. Hitters will tell you it doesn’t matter if little Timmy is sick or hung over. You can’t hit a home run whenever you want. And everybody will tell you trying really hard doesn’t work. It in fact, it makes everything worse.
Take last Saturday’s extra-inning comeback against the Rays. In the ninth and 10th innings there were three key hits: Alex Gordon’s game-tying double in the ninth, Billy Butler’s leadoff single in the 10th and Eric Hosmer’s game-winning double that followed. I talked to each guy, and they all said the same thing: They were trying not to do too much.
Alex said that in the past, he would have been thinking game-winning home run and over-swung. Billy said he just wanted to get the first hittable fastball in play. Eric said he was looking for a fastball, and, with a runner on first, he simply wanted to make sure he kept the ball off the ground and stayed out of a double play.
Royals first-base coach Doug Sisson and I talked about this phenomenon, and Doug said a really interesting thing. Fans like to see misplaced emotion. If a guy throws his helmet after making an out, it must mean he really cares. Pros see that, and it means the guy doesn’t have himself under control.
Doug said that when rookies come into pro ball and fire a bat or a helmet, they are called into the office the next day. They are told this is pro ball. You’re going to have 600 at-bats and make a lot of outs, and we can’t have you or the team on an emotional roller-coaster ride all the time. That would hurt us in the clutch.
The idea is for every at-bat to be the same. A World Series at-bat is the same as a spring-training at-bat. (George Brett confirmed this as the key to his success, although he smashed a few toilets in his younger days before he understood the mind-set he needed.) During a Little League World Series broadcast, Orel Hershiser was asked whether the players needed to raise the level of their play in such important games. Orel said they could try, or just play the same and let everyone else play worse. Then people would think they had raised the level of their games.
So the next time you see a guy screw up or have a bad plate appearance and he doesn’t throw a helmet, a bat or a fit, it doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. It means he’s trying to be clutch.