Games » Milwaukee BrewersJun12
A great game
The Kansas City Star
If you need another reason to love baseball, this game provided it. Zack Greinke, former Cy Young winner, 7-2, 3.13 ERA, vs. Luis Mendoza, long reliever, 2-3, 5.36 ERA. If someone told you Tuesday morning that one of these guys would take a no-hitter into the seventh inning, which one would you have thought it would be?
That’s the beauty of the game. The numbers tell you that Greinke is a much better pitcher — on average. But for one night or one inning or one at-bat, someone can beat the odds. Tuesday night Luis Mendoza beat the odds for six innings.
It was a lot of fun to watch him do it.
First inning: Alex Gordon had said that hitting leadoff at the start of the game meant the pitcher was going to come right after you (Greinke did), and that he probably would come right after you with fastballs (Greinke did). Alex hit the sixth straight fastball he saw out of the park.
Fourth inning: Milwaukee’s Norichika Aoki was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning. Ryan Braun then lined out to Alex Gordon for the first out. Aramis Ramirez then flew out to Gordon. Aoki tagged up and made a strong move toward second base, Gordon made a stronger throw and Aoki was forced to retreat to first.
An outfielder who takes his job less seriously than Gordon might have been caught napping, and Aoki would have made it to second. The importance of keeping the runner at first base became apparent when Chris Getz fielded a ball while he was headed toward the outfield, then flipped the ball back to Alcides Escobar, who was covering second base, for the third out of the inning.
Without Gordon’s throw, Getz had no force at second and the inning would have continued.
Fifth inning: Mike Moustakas hit a chopper that struck first base and bounced into the outfield for a double. With the Royals still leading 1-0, Alcides Escobar needed to move Moose to third. Esky was unable to do so, lining out to Greinke. The cost of that became apparent when Jarrod Dyson hit a fly-ball out to center field. Instead of being a run-scoring sacrifice fly, it was just another out. Humberto Quintero finished the inning by striking out.
Sixth inning: With one out, Chris Getz hit an infield single and Ned Yost appeared to guess right on a hit and run. The manager’s job is to wait until he thinks the hitter is going to get a fastball for a strike, then put the runner in motion. On a 1-0 count (Zack had just thrown a curveball out of the zone), Getz took off and the Brewers’ second baseman covered the bag, which opened the right side. In a beautiful piece of hitting, Billy Butler served the ball through the hole. Eric Hosmer popped up on the infield (Getz couldn’t tag), and Jeff Francoeur lined out to right.
It was becoming apparent that this game would turn on some small thing done well or poorly.
Seventh inning: Braun pulled the ball down the third-base line, Mike Moustakas fielded it and came up throwing. Unfortunately, Mike’s foot slipped on the grass, and the throw was off-line. The ball got past Hosmer at first base, and Braun made the turn and headed for second. Chris Getz did his job and was in position to deal with a bad throw. Chris came up throwing, and his throw was off line.
After the game, Chris said this was a “turn-and-burn” play. There was no time to get a grip on the ball or set your feet. Getz had to grab the ball, wheel, fire and hope Alcides Escobar could handle any problem. Esky couldn’t. The throw was off-line, and Braun headed for third. E-4.
Mendoza walked the next batter and was replaced by Aaron Crow. Ned said Mendoza’s pitch count was low and he was going to stay until he gave up a hit. With the potential tying and winning runs on base, Yost went to the pen. Crow got Taylor Green to hit what appeared to be a sacrifice fly to Alex Gordon, but Gordon threw out yet another runner at the plate.
In the clubhouse, Alex told me he was in line with the runner and had to throw the ball slightly to the runner’s right, into foul territory. Catcher Humberto Quintero went to his left, caught the ball and got back in time to tag the runner at the plate. Crisis averted … temporarily.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s Aramis Ramirez was at first base and had the presence of mind to tag up and move to second. This was smart baseball. Anytime there is a play at home plate, it will be difficult for the catcher to get off a strong throw afterward.
Moustakas did his job. He was in line with the throw and faked cutting the ball off, but Ramirez wasn’t buying the fake and moved into second. So when the Brewers’ Rickie Weeks served a soft fly ball that dropped into left-center field, Ramirez’ good base-running paid off. He scored, and the game was tied at 1.
Eighth inning: With the score 1-1, Gordon led off with a double. Getz moved him to third with a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt to the right side, and Billy Butler came up big, driving in Gordon with a single. That made the score 2-1, but the game was not over by a long shot.
Ninth inning: Jonathan Broxton seems to be one of those closers who often starts a fire and then puts the fire out. Tuesday night was no exception. Aramis Ramirez singled, putting the tying run on board. Carlos Gomez entered the game to pinch-run for Ramirez. Broxton struck out Taylor Green, but while that was happening, Gomez stole second.
Now it was time for two of the biggest plays of the game, neither of which will show up in the box score. Chris Getz wanted to shorten Gomez’s lead, so he ran to second base, showing an open glove. The open glove is the sign to the pitcher to attempt a pickoff. Instead, Broxton turned and delivered the ball to home plate. Getz was out of position. He was too close to second base as the ball was delivered to home plate.
But dumb luck intervened. The batter, Rickie Weeks, hit a ball up the middle. Because Getz was too close to second, he could get to that ball. Chris caught the ball, jumped, turned and threw to first. Getz didn’t have enough on the ball to get the out, but Hosmer scooped the short hop.
Meanwhile, Gomez was rounding third. If Getz didn’t keep the ball on the infield and if Hosmer didn’t scoop the short hop, Gomez would have scored. Instead, he stopped at third, Broxton struck out another pinch-hitter, George Kottaras, and Escobar fielded the final grounder and stepped on second to end the game.
This is my favorite kind of ballgame: great pitching, great (most of the time) defense, low-scoring and every play mattered. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
The tools of ignorance
Earlier this season, I walked past Eric Hosmer in the clubhouse and he asked whether I had any video stunts up my sleeve for the coming year. When Eric arrived in the big leagues last season, I was having my 14½ minutes of fame for getting hit by a 92-mph pitch. When we were introduced, the first thing Eric asked was, “Are you the guy?” Yup, I’m the guy.
So if anything was happening this year, Hosmer wanted in. (There’s a lot of downtime in baseball, and players welcome anything that breaks up the routine, especially if it involves a member of the media getting drilled with a baseball.) I told Hosmer my idea. I would strap on the catching gear and see whether I could block 10 pitches in the dirt. Hos immediately volunteered to pitch.
These things take planning. I had to get permission from Royals hitting coach Kevin Seitzer to use the indoor batting cage for the video. I told Seitz I wanted him there because the best thing about the hit-by-pitch video was him laughing so hard that he fell down. I had to get permission from Jason Kendall to wear his catching gear (you never touch a player’s stuff without asking), and when I discovered Jason did not have a mitt in his bag, I had to ask Mike Moustakas if we could use his catching mitt (he has one just because he like baseball gloves).
I recruited Mitch Maier as my catching instructor. Mitch is the third-string catcher, which was good enough for the level of ineptitude I was about to exhibit. We started with Hosmer throwing a simple pitch, which I missed by about a foot. It’s true: lefties have movement. Balls would start to my right and just keep moving away.
I missed the first two, and then we got on the same page. I was able to anticipate Hosmer’s movement (imagine what it would have been like with a real pitcher), and I quickly advanced from missing the ball entirely to letting the ball clang off Mike’s mitt. (It must have been the mitt, right?)
Then Hos said he was going to “mix it up.” This was not part of our original agreement. I said he could throw 10 pitches in the dirt, and I’d see how many I could block. Mixing it up meant I would have to guess whether the ball was coming on the fly or bouncing in the dirt (and yes, guessing is the right word for what I was doing). Some went between my legs, some went off my chest protector, none of them was blocked with the ease you see demonstrated every night at a major-league park.
Suddenly, we heard Ned Yost’s voice. We were like kids caught playing ball in the living room when dad arrived home from work — then dad steps in and gives you advice on playing ball in the living room. Yost told Hosmer he was throwing too hard for me to handle (Ned has a good eye for baseball talent — and the lack of it). Ned then told me I needed to get my backside off the ground if I was going to be able to block the ball.
Time out for a little information. Catchers use one stance when nobody’s on base and another when there is a runner on base (thighs parallel to the ground). The second stance allows the catcher to come up and throw to a base or move forward while dropping to his knees to block pitches in the dirt. The second stance is reeeeeeally tiring. Try holding it for a minute. Heck, make it 30 seconds. You then will wonder how catchers pop in and out of this stance for several hours every night.
The trick I was supposed to be pulling off — and failing to do so in pathetic fashion — was to anticipate the ball in the dirt, drop to my knees, block the opening between my legs with the mitt, lean forward so my chest was over the ball, roll my shoulders forward to create a better blocking angle, drop my chin to my chest to protect my throat and get my bare hand behind the mitt so my right arm could become part of the blocking surface.
(I must have been doing the last one, because I’ve got a giant bruise on my right bicep. Of course, my right bicep has the consistency of an overripe banana, so it doesn’t take much to bruise it. And from the appearance of several seam marks within the bruise, I managed to get hit more than once in the same place.)
Nobody told me to shut my eyes, but it must be important — I was doing it on most of the pitches.
By now, Mike Moustakas, who said he was coming along to observe the disaster close up, also wanted throw pitches at me. (I almost said to me, but that would be inaccurate.) Fortunately for me, Mike — who can throw the ball in the mid-90s — was weak from laughter by this point and couldn’t get much on the ball.
By now, 10 pitches had turned into what felt like 110. My thighs were screaming. I was soaked with sweat. I had taken those shots off the right bicep, another off my right hand — one finger turned black and purple the next day — and also got drilled in ribs on my left side. At that point, Mitch Maier — who I thought was on my side — observed that I hadn’t actually gotten up and gone after any of the pitches I blocked. (Oh, yeah. Blocking was only the first part of the exercise.)
Popping to your feet, pouncing on the ball and coming up ready to throw is what keeps the runner from advancing. Unfortunately, letting the ball ricochet off any odd body part and then slumping over in exhaustion doesn’t get the job done.
So I made the necessary adjustment: I retired from catching.
Enjoy the video. I hope it makes you laugh, but I also hope it teaches you something. The game is hard. These guys make it look easy, but, as you can see when a middle-aged man — I’m still middle-aged, right? — tries to do the same thing, the game doesn’t look so easy any more.
Just as funny in person
I got on the elevator with Brewers broadcaster Bob Uecker, and I told him that I wanted to thank him. “Over the years, you’ve made me laugh my ass off.”
Uecker’s response? “You should have seen me play.”
Lee Judge learns it's not easy stopping pitches in the dirt
With the help of Kansas City Royals players Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Mitch Maier, the Star's Lee Judge gets a chance to block pitches in the dirt. 6/12/12 (Video by John Sleezer/The Kansas City Star)