Rickey Henderson: More electrifying than any slugger
It’s not that he’s wrong, it’s just that Jeff Blair always seems to be the first to jump headfirst into negativity when the Jays hit a rough patch. In his column in today’s Globe and Mail he points out the fact that sure, the Jays have a great record, but against the Yankees and Red Sox they are 1-4. Yeah, thanks, we know.
The Jays send rookie Robert Ray to the mound tonight against Jon Lester. If the Jays can find a way to beat these guys tonight, they leave Boston with a 2 1/2 game lead in the East going into a weekend series against the underwhelming Atlanta Braves.
Oh, inter-league play, how I loathe you. You see, I’m a traditionalist. In my mind the only time a National League team should play an American league team is the World Series. I never warmed to inter-league play, even when the Jays played the Expos (it’s the closest I came to liking it). It has taken away the novelty of the two leagues facing off for the championship.
No surprise there: I’m also totally against the Designated Hitter rule in the American League. I love the fact that managers in the National League are forced to make decisions once their pitcher goes deep into the game. Yes, I’m an advocate of small-ball, as opposed to just grip-it-and-rip-it baseball. I’ll take a Rickey Henderson over a Jim Thome every single time.
In essence, then, I suppose inter-league play is good for one thing, and that’s to see the Blue Jays play some real baseball. Cito is going to be forced into making decisions, which will quiet down all the haters (ok probably not). We can also see if Roy Halladay’s boasts about his hitting prowess are true!
- Aaron Hill still leads the Majors in hits with 64 (tied with Victor Martinez)
- Marco Scutaro still leads the Majors with 36 walks (tied with Adam Dunn) and 36 runs (tied with Adam Jones)
- Roy Halladay still leads the Majors with eight wins (Zach Greinke has 7) and overall awesomeness with infinite
In French, the knuckleball pitch is called “balle papillon”, which translates to “butterfly pitch”. My oh my was the butterfly fluttering last night.
When I see my team’s upcoming pitching matchups and “Tim Wakefield” shows up as an opponent, I can’t help but feel a spark of excitement within me as I ponder the prospect of the Jays hitters teeing off on the softballs sure to be lofted towards the plate. Some nights it happens, and others turn out like last night. When that pitch is jumping, the hitters are powerless.
The factors that affect a knuckleball range from pitching ability to humidity index. When there’s more moisture in the air, the ball’s movement will be affected on its way to the plate by the extra resistance. This is the main reason why it’s so hard to count on a knuckleballer, and probably why we don’t see more of them in the Majors. You can imagine how frustrating it would be for a manager to witness a performance like yesterday’s by Wakefield (8 IP, 5 Hits, 1 ER), only to watch him go in his next start and post numbers like he did last week against the Angels (4.1 IP, 11 Hits, 7 ER). Most of the time, mechanics have nothing to do with it – you’re just at the mercy of the weatherman.
I don’t know how I’d deal with one of these guys if I were a manager. Sure it could be frustrating some nights, but on the other hand they can often take the mound and completely mistify the hitters. Not only that, but when they’re effective, they can go deep into games because the knuckler is the easiest pitch on one’s arm. It’s no wonder that Wakefield has been at this for 17 years with no signs of slowing down (I remember him frustrating Expos hitters in those great early ’90′s pennant races with the Pirates!), and why Charlie Hough, another prominent knuckeballer from baseball history, pitched 25 years until the age of 46. Does a knuckleball pitcher really need 4 days rest? This would fly in the face of modern convention, but perhaps a visionary manager could have a knuckleballer in the starting rotation, then have him in the bullpen on off days. If the humidity index is through the roof with your team leading 3-1 in the sixth inning, you bring in the “papillon”. Just a thought.
Another downside to having a knuckleballer on staff is that they aren’t very effective when the games become most important. Humidity tends to drop in the fall, and as mentioned earlier this affects the knuckleballer’s effectiveness: the ball doesn’t dance nearly as much in dry air. For example, Wakefield’s career E.R.A. is a respectable 4.31. In the playoffs, meanwhile, his E.R.A. jumps 244 points to 6.75. Hough’s stats also support this theory: he had a 3.75 E.R.A. for his career, but his postseason E.R.A. was 4.82.
Still, how do you tell a guy who went 17-12 during the regular season (as Wakefield did in 2007), that his stuff just isn’t good enough to pitch in the playoffs? That year Red Sox manager Terry Francona did try to hold Wakefield back, until he needed a pitcher deep in the ALCS against Cleveland. He finally relented (out of necessity) and was rewarded with 4.1 innings pitched with 5 runs allowed, completely contrary to the way Wakefield had pitched throughout a stellar regular season.
Last night’s game was a perfect exhibit for the advantages of having such a pitcher in your starting rotation. Once the Jays established that Wakefield was throwing strikes, they got real aggressive and starting swinging at the first pitch. Most of them ended up in the air, then harmlessly falling into the glove of a Red Sox infielder. Wakefield threw 96 pitches in 8 innings of work, barely breaking a sweat in the process. Francona brought in his closer in the ninth, almost as a courtesy to Papelbon so he could pick up an easy save against a dispirited team.
Want to learn to throw a knuckleball?
Charlie Hough, Tim Wakefield, Tom Candiotti; these are the knuckleball pitchers I remember from the past 20 years. Can you think of any others?
I was having lunch at Subway with a friend when a couple of colleagues walked by and broke the news: Manny suspended 50 games for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. I’m sure they would tell you that my reaction was complete and utter shock.
I am such a sucker. Why should I be surprised? I guess I continue to overestimate the IQ of ballplayers. How stupid/greedy do you have to be when you’re so talented that you have to crave more, by whatever means necessary? How many steroid-pumping Scott Boras clients are we at, now? How infallible do you have think you are to make you thumb your nose at the MLB’s drug testing program. Did he think they wouldn’t reveal the positive test because he’s such a big star?
That’s the positive thing to come out of this. With this announcement, MLB has shown it has the cojones to “out” one its sacred cows. It sends a shiver down the spine of every other baseball player who might have felt somehow protected by his status. Fifty games costs Manny $7.7 million. Ouch.
This will hurt more than his pocketbook, however. Although Manny wasn’t exactly regarded as an ambassador for the game, he was a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer. He’s cast that induction into doubt now, and the Hall of Fame steroids argument gets even murkier.
I’m sure Jeff Blair and all the steroid apologists will feel real smug today, and their colums will ooze with I-told-you-so’s and how we should just accept drugs in sports. No. If anything, this is another example of our ability to weed out the cheaters and re-establishing some credibility to a tarnished sport.
One other thing: we’ll get to see if the Dodger fans who criticized San Francisco fans for supporting Barry Bonds will have the courage of their convictions and greet Manny with the only welcome he deserves – a chorus of boos.
To have highs, it is necessary to have lows. It’s important to remind oneself of that when watching a game play out like it did yesterday.
Brian Tallet was spectacular on the mound for six innings. He was so awesome that the Indians had a big fat “0″ in their hit column going into the seventh. At this point Tallet, a converted reliever making what amounts to a series of emergency starts, had thrown 75 pitches. “In Cito I trust”, I really do, but at the back of my mind I know that the main criticism against him is that he tends to leave his starters in the game too long.
Obviously you’re not going to pull a guy off the mound when he’s throwing a no-hitter. I get that. Nonetheless, shouldn’t you get a guy up in the bullpen to step in at the first sign of trouble? The shot of the lifeless bullpen after Tallet gave up that first hit in the top of the seventh sent a chill down my spine. With a guy like Tallet, the pitch count should be a more significant barometer than how the guy is performing. Cito should have had someone warming up before Tallet pitched himself out of a win. That’s my take.
These resilient Jays wouldn’t go down without a fight, however, and came back to tie the game on a few occasions before finally bowing out in the 12th. The low point was giving up the tying run in the bottom of the ninth when they were one strike from victory. Brandon League caught too much of the plate and boom goes the dynamite.
Quick turnaround today as Brett Cecil makes his MLB debut (wow, another one). Five good innings is all we ask, Brett.
If the Jays don’t win another series this year, you can blame it on the Ottawa Sports Guy Hex. On Saturday my record streak of consecutive Blue Jays games watched to start a season came to a close as real life caught up to me and prevented me from tuning in to the 10-2 loss at the hands of the White Sox. It was worth it though: I was at a fantastic event organized by my beloved girlfriend Laura and our friend Lola (hint: it’s not too late to donate to this great community cause).
And so if the Jays lose the upcoming series with the Royals, go ahead and blame me: perhaps my streak was somehow connected to the Jays streak of winning their first 6 series of the season. Good thing that in real life I’m the furthest thing from a fatalist as you can find.
I’m a bit concerned about the state of the four-spot in the Jays rotation. As long as Romero is out, I don’t see Brian Burres securing many wins. I’ll echo what the message boards are clamoring about: SIGN PEDRO. Seriously. That would be some major karma having Pedro Martinez and Kevin Millar in the same clubhouse again. Pedro was always destined to win a World Series for a Canadian team. Pedro could eat up innings at the end of the year when the Jays will have to scale back the workload on young arms like Romero, Purcey and whoever else comes up to fill the holes (Fabio Castro anyone? The Big Turk brought this to my attention: Castro had another strong outing today for New Hampshire. 5 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 7 K. His ERA dropped to 0.83 on the season (21.2 innings, 24/3 strikeout to walk ratio, 0 HR allowed). He already has MLB experience, so I would not be surprised if they promote him straight from AA to the Majors at some point this year). SIGN PEDRO. I love the Man. I love the Legend. SIGN PEDRO. Put me down for a Pedro Jays jersey right now if he signs. Come on JP: DO IT.
I’m a sucker for pitching duels. Pitching is my favourite aspect of baseball, and I love it when both pitchers are dialed in and making life miserable for opposing hitters. Clearly, I want the Jays offence to perform well and build up some solid numbers, but I’ll take a game like last night every day of the week. Detroit’s Edwin Jackson was the better of the two, pitching into the eighth inning while allowing a solitary run on two hits. David Purcey wasn’t much worse, allowing two earned runs on five hits against a lineup stacked with all but one right-handed hitter.
Obviously the come from behind win by the Jays (woohoo!) is going to steal all the headlines, but the story last night was pitching, both good and bad. Great starting pitching gave way to mediocre relief, and it became a fight to see who would give up the last run. Shawn Camp relieved Purcey and got three outs (although it got dicey there for a bit with the bases loaded). Brandon Lyon replaced Jackson and allowed the Jays to come back and take the lead. Not to be outdone, B.J. Ryan pitched the top of the ninth and gave up a solo home run to Brandon Inge, blowing his first save opportunity (uh-oh).
The Jays showed some resilience (or was that Brandon Lyon showing incompetence?), and loaded the bases with one out for Rod Barajas, who drove in the winning run on a sac fly. Victory to the Jays, 2-0 for the first time in four years. Although Purcey did pitch well, there was cause for concern in that he didn’t throw his change-up all night, relying solely on his heater and slider. Whatever works, I guess, but having two pitches won’t cut it for 30 starts.
One thing that did bother me was Jerry Layne’s strike zone. The only thing you ask from an umpire is consistency, and that is especially crucial for the home plate official. What we saw last night was consistent, but in the sense that Jackson kept getting a bunch of calls that were not given to Purcey, especially the low-inside pitch against righties. Jackson was getting that called a strike all night, but no luck for Purcey. Purcey was essentially working with a smaller strike zone. That kind of thing drives me nuts. Oh well, Jays win in the end.
Tonight Jesse Litsch takes the mound against Zach Miner. Is 3-0 too much to ask?
Viewing Note: Rogers Sportsnet followed up their dismal opening night broadcast by relegating Jays fans to watching the Tigers local feed on Sportsnet Pacific. You have to start wondering if Rogers is so worried about it’s on-field product that they’re burying coverage in the 400 stratosphere of channels. Fox Sports Detroit was actually pretty decent. The announcers weren’t total homers and I actually learned a few things. Tonight, the game will actually be available on Sportsnet HD; about freaking time!
I guess now we know why the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario revoked the Rogers Centre’s liquor licence for a couple of games this year. Some Toronto fans brought themselves into disrepute last night after causing a 10-minute delay in which Jim Leyland pulled his players off the field because of projectiles being thrown onto the surface. Stay classy, Toronto.
It’s easy to scold these miscreants, but which is better: the lifeless suits who fill Air Canada Centre for every Leafs game, or the small group of Toronto FC agitators who got themselves pepper-spayed and tasered in Columbus*, or these yahoos who threw baseballs at Detroit Tigers outfielders? Fan passion is a needed ingredient to a healthy sports franchise (just ask Toronto FC), but some residents of society’s underbelly mistake passion for drunken tomfoolery. The crowd I was a part of for the USA v. Canada game at Rogers Centre presented a much better example of desired fan behaviour; passionate support that never crossed the line (despite much alcohol being consumed on that festive day as well).
The incident occurred in the bottom of the eighth, and for a time I thought the story might end up being how Jays fans at the game refused to let their dire predictions for the season go unfulfilled, and snatch victory from the players by forfeiting the game through hooliganism. Thankfully calm was restored and the Jays were able to claim their first victory of the season on the strength of young bats inserted into this season’s lineup.
It’s a strange occurrence when Roy Halladay is not the story on a night that he’s the starter. No; this night belonged to the Jays bats, namely Adam Lind (4-5, 6 RBI) and Travis Snider (2-4, HR, 2B), who pushed 12 runs across, including eight against an over-matched Justin Verlander. Every Jay got a hit last night. It was great to see Aaron Hill turn a double play again and Lyle Overbay bashing a double to the gap, great to see Vernon Wells and Alex Rios having good performances overshadowed. Let’s hope this fight for the spotlight happens many more times this year.
For at least one day the Jays are ahead of the Yankees (snicker, snicker C.C. Sabathia), Red Sox and Devil Rays. Tonight, another youngster features for the Jays. David Purcey takes to the mound and we’ll get to evaluate whether his hot Spring was as irrelevant as most Spring statistics. Here’s hoping he can mesmerize the Tigers hitters and keep this good feeling going.
Viewing note: Sportsnet dropped the ball last night. The game was NOT available in HD in the Ottawa region. Viewers had to tune in to Sportsnet Pacific to watch the game because the Ottawa Senators were playing, but here’s what’s puzzling; the Senators game was in standard definition. It boggles the mind as to why Sportsnet would put the Sens game on their HD feed and their Jays telecast on standard def. Only once the Sens game ended did the HD channel carry the remainder of the Jays game. What a debacle. Oh, and Sportsnet – that “beautiful” camera view from the 5th deck? There’s a reason those are the cheapest seats in the place – you can’t see shit.
*For the record, I believe the incident in Columbus had more to do with badly trained police officers, but it does point to a disturbing trend for Toronto sports fans. You can also point to the incident at the FIFA Under World Cup involving the Chilean National team. Perhaps Toronto fans have been going to too many Bills games at Orchard park and this is learned behaviour.
Quick thoughts on what I plan to watch this weekend:
F1 – Malaysian GP:
I’ll be PVR-ing qualifying and the race, and will probably watch both on Sunday morning. Williams was fastest again in practice today. Should be interesting to see if Brawn GP can keep the momentum going forward. Will Ferrari and McLaren get any points this weekend?
ALMS – Acura Sports Car Challenge of St. Petersburg:
The luster dulls a bit after Sebring this year, as Audi and Peugeot retreat to Europe to prepare for the 24 Hours of LeMans. Usually Audi have been regulars in this series, but they’ve blamed the economy to explain their absence this year. P1 will be Acura’s playground, P2 will be a fight between an Acura and the Mazdas and GT1 is Corvette-only. Come to think of it, the only compelling class in ALMS this year is GT2. I hope that’s how the sporscast treats it (ABC, 1:30 pm Eastern). I’ll be watching to see what BMW did to improve on their dismal first race and if Panoz can continue running with the big boys.
MLS – Toronto FC v. Seattle Sounders:
Toronto FC’s home opener should be a treat to watch. They went undefeated in their first two road games and the crowd will be as wild as ever at BMO Field. Haven’t had a chance to catch either of their first two games, so this will be my first look at Canada’s 2009 entry in MLS. I’ll be checking for weaknesses that the Impact can exploit in the Voyageurs Cup! Interesting side note is that the Sounders’ best striker, Fredy Montero, is staying behind to recover from what the team is calling “the flu”. According to this report, that is quite the nasty flu.
MLB: Atlanta v. Philadelphia
Baseball is back, baby! Sunday night I’ll be watching the World Series Champions take on the up and coming Atlanta Braves. It’s been a long winter and the WBC disappointed, so my baseball taste buds need satiating! I normally would never watch the Braves play the Phillies in a regular season game, but it’s opening night. John Miller will have the call, and we’ll be treated to Citizens Bank Park in glorious high-definition. A Philadelphia night in early April can’t be too warm, I imagine, but it can’t be worse than game 6, err game 5, err game 5 and a half (?) of the World Series!