Games 1 & 2: The essence of baseball
If you didn’t enjoy the first two games of the World Series you are either a Home Run Derby type of fan that enjoys seeing double-digit scoring and “digs the long ball,” or you get bored easily with games that don’t have a lot of scoring but get one’s attention in other ways. How each pitch, spectacular fielding play or occasional sloppy play in the field, alert baserunning and even a little bit of luck — like a bloop hit on a pitch that would usually get a hitter out — can have a lot more influence on the outcome than a three-run homer. I loved these first two games for those reasons.
I know, I’m an old fashioned baseball fan. I enjoy a game on a lazy summer afternoon with no noise in the park except the sound of the ball hitting the bat or hearing the players in the field talking it up on the infield. The voice of the vendor two sections away selling his wares. The game was intended to be more of a cerebral game than a lot of others like football or basketball. Those games are entertaining for other reasons, they can be more violent, have more constant action. Some of today’s baseball games during the regular season resemble a rock concert. I’ll take these last two games anytime.
What’s the manager thinking? How are these pitchers getting hitters out without throwing 98 miles an hour? Will they bunt, hit and run, steal?
Baseball was intended to be, if my dad explained it to me correctly, a game that you sat back and enjoyed the skills of the guys on the field executing the basic fundamentals of the game and didn’t have to be a 6’2″, 225-pound, carved-out-of-granite specimen to play it well. The average-size athlete can still compete and succeed.
I mentioned in my blog a couple days ago that facing hitters for the first time gives a definite edge to the pitcher. We’ve seen that. You can tell by the hitter’s reactions either swinging or taking a pitch that there is an element of not knowing what to expect or where to expect it. Quite a contrast to the Milwaukee/St. Louis series where they knew each other so well after playing each other 18 times during the season. Not to say the pitchers aren’t good pitchers anyway, but the lack of familiarity helps them.
Ian Kinsler and Elvis Andrus had quite a game as a middle infield combo didn’t they? Not just seeing Andrus make the stops and the acrobatic throws and the timing of Kinsler catching the throw and stepping on the bag just in time to get the out….What you don’t see on TV is the anticipation and preparation in advance of the pitch to get themselves in position to make those kind of plays.
Without knowing it at the time, I learned a lot about how the game should be played on my days between starts sitting next to a veteran like Pete Whisenant or next to a coach like George Strickland when I was in my early 20s. There weren’t any electronic screens showing meaningless minutia to “dumb you down” and take your mind away from the game. Thank goodness! Guys like Whisenant and Strickland would tell me to watch the hitter/baserunner after he got a hit to see if he rounded the bag and anticipated a bad throw and was ready to take the extra base. Elvis Andrus did that. It impacted the game.
The managers make moves one day and they work and make them look like they are really smart. If the same moves don’t work the next game they are open to second guessing from fans and media. These two managers know that and they are smart and secure enough to make the moves and live with the results, not affected by critics who have never been between the lines. They put their players in position to be successful with their matchups. Then it’s up to the players to execute correctly.
We are inundated with statistics in baseball. Graphics crawling across the bottom of the screen or little boxes giving us so much information one can’t follow it or digest it very easily. I remember one statistic that Lou Pinella mentioned to me 20 years ago when he was managing Seattle. It was the first time I had ever been made aware of the importance of it. Lou said, “Give me some hitters than can drive the runner in from third with less than two out 100 percent of the time and we’ll score enough runs to win a pennant with just decent pitching, not necessarily great pitching.
Josh Hamilton and Michael Young did that last night. Two sacrifice flys. Check out the Major League average sometime for doing that in those situations. A ground ball with the infield back, a sac fly, a soft single, a squeeze bunt… Anything to get the runner home. You’ll be surprised at how low the percentage of times it’s done during the season for all teams combined. Maybe not much over 50 percent.
And then, the element of luck. Jason Motte made a good enough pitch to get Kinsler out but give credit to Kinsler for putting it in play and getting a bloop hit. Hitters and pitchers have said for years that the breaks don’t even out. Hitters will say, I never get enough bloop hits to make up for all the line drives I’ve hit at people. Pitchers say the same about liners and bloops they’ve given up. Jason Motte will look back on that bloop single someday after giving up a scorching liner right at one of his infielders and have it end up as a double play and get some retribution.
I don’t think we’ll continue to see low scoring games with the subtle plays and alert baserunning impacting the outcome like these first two games but it has been fun to watch. Warmer weather and the excitement of opening games has passed, and Rangers Ballpark in Arlington is hitter friendly. That adds up to a bigger challenge for the starting pitchers. At least we got two games of good, old-fashioned hardball. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.