Archive for category Baseball
Last night’s 1-0 Virginia win over Florida in the College World Series was, for me, anyway, an exercise in the power of first impressions, and the value of keeping score.
Florida’s offense had looked scary the whole post-season, winning games with 19, 11, 13, and 8 runs. Their only close game was in the regionals, the 2-1 clincher over Florida Atlantic.
So when Brandon (don’t call me “Rube“) Waddell opened up with a 20-pitch first inning, including an opening out that was a couple of feet short of a home run, a walk, and a hit batter, it stayed with me the whole game. The impression was one of a starting pitcher who got rattled by that first batter almost taking him deep, and took a while to settle down. It was reinforced by a lead-off infield single in the second, and aided by the ungodly amount of time he was taking between pitches.
He was certainly throwing hard, but he wasn’t striking guys out. And because Virginia only put up the one run, and because its pitching had been shaky (Waddell’s own stats this year haven’t been world-beating), and because college baseball is still shaking off its decades-long reputation of having beer-league softball scores, it didn’t feel dominant, it felt like Waddell was tiptoeing on the edge of disaster.
Had I been keeping score, I would have seen how much he was owning the Gators. His line until the 8th – when he left with nobody out and runners at the corners – really was dominant. From the 2nd through the 7th, Waddell faced only one batter over the minimum, and had only two baserunners in all. He averaged something line 10 pitches an inning during that span, but it wasn’t until the 7th that I looked up and realized the Florida pitcher, Puk, had thrown 10 more pitches than Waddell had. But because of that shaky first inning, where appeared not to have the confidence to pitch to the batters, I spent the better portion of the game not realizing that he had settled into a lineup-killing rhythm.
The lesson? Bring a scorecard.
The Saturday night movie was “Trouble With the Curve,” the latest Clint Eastwood offering. A rom-com with professional complications and a baseball backdrop. You can’t screw up baseball – the owners have proven that, try as they might – but you can make a predictable, formulaic rom-com, and that’s what they’ve done here. It’s not exactly paint-by-numbers, but they’re not painting the corners, either. The characters are, for the most part, barely one-dimensional and overplayed, at that. Even the final, dramatic showdown between pitcher and catcher misses an obvious trick.
The movie aspires to be a sort of anti-“Moneyball,” with Clint playing an aging scout who thinks his eyes and ears can tell him stuff that the kids’ computers can’t. That baseball is cruel and unfair won’t be news to fans. But that it compounds the normal cruelty of high school athletes may come as a surprise to some. The games are what they are, but the action for the scouts isn’t in the results, but the process. The reason you need scouts for high school is that any major league prospect is going to so outclass his competition that the results at that level don’t suffice to distinguish between prospects and true star power. But remember, in “Moneyball,” the whiz kids weren’t using SABRmetrics to scout high schoolers, but under-valued major- and minor-leaguers. So the portrait of baseball resembles an Escher drawing – the details are right, but they’re placed in a world that doesn’t exist.
Clint and Amy Adams as his daughter turn in nice performances, as does Justin Timberlake, and while neither of the two younger actors has the resume of Eastwood, they can hold their own on the screen with him. Eastwood is smart enough to know that actors bring their body of work with them to whatever new roles they play, and some skillful use of some footage of a younger Clint helps allude to the outside-the-rules Eastwood that we all remember.
Two, maybe two-and-a-half stars. As usual, the real game is better.
Especially when your childhood team is finally playing meaningful ball in September. In this case, that’s the Orioles. September 2007 was magical here, and I was working a block away from Coors Field. I got to see a couple of Rockies wins during that stretch, saw the play-in game against the Padres, and saw the two NLCS wins against Arizona, including the clincher that sent them to the Series. But there’s nothing quite like seeing the team you rooted for as a kid go to the playoffs.
I subscribe to the MLB.com radio broadcats at something like $15/year, and Joe Angel is back doing the games after a purgatory in Yankeeland. In fact, even as I write this, I’m listening to the Orioles broadcast, and watching the Yankees play the A’s on TV. Would that it were the other way around, but TBS seems to have some sort of contract that requires them to show Yankees games.
On the rare occasions that the Orioles have been on television it’s been fun to see Camden Yards full again,and the ads for local brands that I had forgotten about, like High’s Ice Cream. Camden Yards was the first of the retro ballparks, and still one of the best, with the warehouse in right field, and the Bromoseltzer Tower in past center. It replaced one of the other trendsetter parks, Memorial Stadium, which doubled for the Colts, and really long-time Orioles fans watched a lot of games there.
So one thing that’s been a little disheartening is the crowd cheers. In Memorial Stadium, there was a guy name “Wild” Bill Hagy who used to lead a cheer from Section 34, spelling out “O-R-I-O-L-E-S” with his body as the crowd shouted out the letters. There’s even a blog named for it. Now, it’s basically the same soundtrack as here in Colorado, so it’s probably the same soundtrack as most parks these days. I know “franchise” implies a certain uniformity of product, but I don’t think that means that the experience has to be the same at every ballpark. You want to think there’s something different about your team, that just because the players are interchangeable these days, doesn’t mean the teams are.
You like to think that the team’s success is the payoff for all those old fans who’ve suffered through 15 years of losing seasons, and then you realize that by definition, there just aren’t that many who will stay interested through that kind of a spell. And when you talk about a cheer they haven’t used in 20 years, you sound like the guy 20 years ago who was reminiscing about how hard it was to pick up the ball against the white shirts in center field in Memorial Stadium.
But you know, who cares? O-R-I-O-L-E-S!
I should know by now. After the Giants put two across in the top of the 14th, I turned off the broadcast. It had been a nice game, but the Rocks had more or less tossed it away earlier on Tulowitzski’s baserunning error, and their inability to make anything of all their men on third. That had made it 3-1, and I figured I needed to concentrate on the County website.
So naturally, when I go to check the scores, they’ve won 6-4. Instead of being back where they started when the Giants came into town, they’ve opened up a 4 game lead for the Wild Card, and closed to within 3 of the Dodgers. The Dodgers, by the way, are in town for a 3-game set starting tomorrow night, so it’s possible – although extraordinarily unlikely – that the Rockies could be tied for first by the weekend, and playing for home field in the NL playoffs. They have played close to .700 ball since the beginning of June, come back from almost dead last in the league (the Nationals have had that pinned down since early April), and are now seriously thinking about playing in October again.
Apparently, the Colorado Rockies are simply a force of nature.
I never liked the intentional walk. I’ve always believed that the intentional walk messes up the pitcher’s rhythm. He’s trained and trained to throw pitches, and you’re asking him to interrupt that to play catch for four tosses. You’re also facing the next batter’s on-base percentage, as opposed to the first batter’s batting average.
But I especially don’t like the intentional walk when your pitcher nearly sends the first pitchout over the catcher’s head. If they guy’s that tired, and just hanging on, why on earth do you want him facing a power hitter – even a journeyman power hitter – with the bases loaded? Pretty much everything Jim Tracey has tries this season has worked, but he left Rincon in for exactly one pitch too long, and even I saw it coming.
CORRECTION: Franklin Morales came in to pitch, forcing the Mets to pinch-hit Tatis. So Tracey didn’t leave Rincon in one pitch too long at all. The hazards of multi-tasking. That said, you’re still almost always making the odds against you worse by putting more men on base with the same number of outs.