Author Archive

I Simply Can’t Get Enough of These Absurd Mets-Phillies Games

It was the first game of the season for the Mets, played in front of an eager, raucous Philly crowd — and for the first six innings, it was a game that belonged to Jacob deGrom. He held the Phillies scoreless, striking out seven, allowing only three hits. He even helped his own cause at the plate, driving in one of the Mets’ two runs — a classically deGrom lack of run support; no wonder he had to do it himself. Even with the number of baserunners the Mets had left stranded, two felt like it could be enough. Even after deGrom left the game, Miguel Castro pitched a clean seventh.

And then came the eighth. Trevor May was on the mound. He struck out Adam Haseley. Then, on his second pitch to Brad Miller, a single. Then Andrew McCutchen drew a walk. A mound visit — it was time for concern — and then, on a pitch well outside the zone, Rhys Hoskins, too, singled. The bases were loaded, and none other than Bryce Harper was coming up to the plate.

May was done. The bleeding needed to stop immediately. So in came Aaron Loup, the veteran lefty whose control has always seemed to be extremely on or extremely off. Harper fouled off Loup’s curveball. Loup’s next pitch hit him in the shoulder. The lead was halved — and, thanks to the three-batter minimum, there was no recourse for Luis Rojas. Loup had to stay in and face J.T. Realmuto. With one more pitch, the lead evaporated. Read the rest of this entry »


Decades in the Making, the Dodgers-Padres Rivalry Has Arrived

This picture of Mookie Betts looks like something out of a postseason highlight reel. It looks, in fact, very much like a picture of Mookie Betts from last October, when he made a number of game- and series-saving catches en route to the Dodgers’ World Series championship. It isn’t: it’s from April 17, last weekend, when the Padres hosted the Dodgers for a three-game set. The catch Betts was celebrating did, indeed, save the game — but it wasn’t a game that meant the difference between living and dying. It was a game that meant the difference between being 11-2 or 10-3.

Even though it might not have been life-or-death, the first meeting between the Dodgers and Padres since they squared off in the NLDS last year was a wild ride. At no point over the three games did either team have more than a two-run lead during regulation play. There were critical errors and rapidly-changing leads. There were blown saves. There were extra innings and cleared benches. When the smoke cleared and the dust settled, the Dodgers had taken two of three — but none of the three games had felt like a foregone conclusion. Game 1 saw the teams trade runs before the Padres tied it late, forcing extras; it was won in the 12th, with Joe Musgrove in left, Jake Cronenworth on the mound, and David Price at the plate. Game 2 was a pitchers’ duel, with Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish exchanging zeroes. The deciding run was a bases-loaded walk with two out — drawn by Kershaw himself. In the ninth, the Padres had the tying runs on second and third before Betts came through with a diving catch. And in Game 3, the Dodgers got an early lead off Blake Snell only for the Padres to chip away at their bullpen, eventually scoring three definitive runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game away.

It was, in short, must-watch baseball — a worthy followup to the twists and turns of the NLDS. Game 2 of that series, in particular, when Cody Bellinger robbed Fernando Tatis Jr. of a would-be go-ahead homer and the Padres loaded the bases against Joe Kelly in the ninth, seems like a direct precursor to what we saw last week. But it’s not just that recent postseason meeting that has contributed to the burgeoning rivalry. There’s been a long history leading up to this point. Read the rest of this entry »


The Year’s First No-Hitter Belongs to Joe Musgrove and Padres

It’s always at the end of the sixth inning that it starts to feel real, that history begins to creep in at the edges, making its way onto the field of view, even as you might try to push it out. The way the game is arranged in sets of three, radiating outward, three into three into nine; when you’ve completed six, you’ve gone through nine twice, with nine more to go. Now comes the third time through the order, when you’ve held it this close. Now comes the part of the game that, especially in our era, it is rare for a starting pitcher to see. Through six, onto the seventh: the power to continue resting on one person’s rapidly fatiguing shoulders.

There have already been several no-hitters through six this season. Trevor Bauer gave up four runs in the seventh. Corbin Burnes and José Berríos matched each other out-for-out through six; Burnes opened the seventh by giving up a homer, and Berríos’ grip loosened in the eighth. Joe Musgrove, on Friday, through six at Globe Life Field, having given the Rangers nothing outside one errant pitch in the fourth; the Padres, with 52 years behind them, the only team never to see one of their own pitchers throw a no-hitter. Through six, those dark, towering stadium walls blocking out the fading sky. This strange hour is when things become unsettled; the precipice of possibility grows closer. You can just see over the edge, almost reach it. Twice, all nine batters have been retired. Nine more to go.

***

On a website that looks like it hasn’t had a design update for the last decade, there’s a news item from 2010 accompanied by a photo: on the right, Adrián González, wearing those bland, bygone navy Padres jerseys, holding a plaque and smiling; on the left, the vice president of the San Diego Hall of Champions. Towering above them both is a young man in the middle, also holding a plaque, wearing a letterman jacket and an awkward smile. They are all on the field at Petco Park, “Grossmont High senior JOE MUSGROVE continues to make headlines wherever he pitches,” the news item reads.

The Grossmont High baseball team is called the Foothillers — the ‘Hillers, for short. Located in El Cajon, in San Diego County, the program has an impressive track record when it comes to developing major-league talent. Steven Brault of the Pirates played there; so did Barry Zito, briefly, but he transferred. Joe Musgrove, as a sophomore, didn’t make much of a mark. He had only started pitching the year before, and he didn’t spend long on the varsity team before being demoted. Read the rest of this entry »


Akil Baddoo, Where He Belongs

You can see, if you want, the teenager who signed with the Minnesota Twins in 2016: a second-round pick from Salem High School in Georgia, leaving an offer from the University of Kentucky to make a go of it in the minors. You can see, in fact, his pre-draft workout for the Twins. It’s right here on YouTube, with a modest thousand views: not the best quality, not the best angle, but he’s there, swinging away, his face turned away from the camera. The video was uploaded by John Baddoo, his dad, whose channel features just one other video — again, starring his son Akil, this time going up to bat in Puerto Rico. From behind the dugout in the sparsely-populated stands — so far that, at first, it’s unclear who is being filmed — the phone camera slowly focuses on Akil as he takes his warm-up swings. Its shaky zoom follows him to the plate. When he puts the ball in play, the video ends abruptly. We don’t know what happened to that ball, whether it was a hit or an out, but it doesn’t matter: We saw his patience, his swing. When this video was uploaded in 2015, he was only 17 years old.

Now, Akil Baddoo is 22. He is, as of last week, a major leaguer. And his debut week has been unlike any other. He made his first appearance on Sunday. His parents were there at Comerica Park, watching, just as they had been when their son was in high school. And on the very first pitch Baddoo saw in the majors, he homered.

That, in itself, is some incredible magic — of all the players who’ve debuted in the major leagues, a number that is currently approaching 20,000, only 31 have done what Baddoo did — seen one pitch and sent it out of the ballpark. But it didn’t stop there. The next day, Baddoo hit another home run: a grand slam, in fact. Read the rest of this entry »


Cat on the Field? Now You’re Talking My Language!

What unfolded in the bottom of the sixth at Coors Field on Friday night was melodrama of the highest tier. There was the astonishingly rapid unraveling of Trevor Bauer‘s no-hitter: a walk, a homer, a walk, a homer — within 10 minutes, what had been a dominant performance was utterly spoiled. Then came David Price’s first on-field appearance with the Dodgers, his first pitching appearance since 2019 — and within 10 more minutes, the Rockies had hit another two long balls. What had been an unassailable 10-0 lead became, out of nowhere, an entirely assailable 10-6 lead.

As Price pitched, a grey blur darted across the backstop. “Did you see the cat?” my brother texted me — and I hadn’t seen it. A moment of inattention was enough to miss it. But it didn’t matter, because, in a matter of minutes, the cat bolted onto the field. The baseball game had been one thing; quickly, without warning, it had become another. And now, it had stopped. The field was transformed into a venue for people to watch the cat.

The cat was an ominous figure, a fluffy gray shadow, its teeth bared in fear as it loped over the infield dirt. It stopped, eventually, in the outfield, where it assumed a defensive resting position. For a moment it sat there, panting, while the thousands of people surround it roared, willing it onward to whatever escapade might lie ahead. The cat was very frightened, as one might well expect.

Read the rest of this entry »


2021 Positional Power Rankings: Second Base

Yesterday, Meg Rowley introduced this year’s rankings, and Dan Szymborski examined the state of the league’s first basemen. Today, we turn our attention to second and third basemen, starting with the denizens of the keystone.

Second base is always a great time here at Positional Power Rankings Inc., an opportunity for us to answer the age-old question: If contact hitters were different, how different would they be? The answer is, of course, quite different, which is why we must rank them. Some, like the players at the top of this list, are contact hitters whose skills expand beyond that limited scope, taking them to critical plate appearances in the postseason, to pennants and championships. Some, with their abilities dwindling over time, are forced to adopt a different style of hitting. Some have never been successful big-leaguers; some are decade-long veterans. Some are young and on the rise; others are old, and sort of on the rise anyway. But they all occupy second base, and these are their rankings. Read the rest of this entry »


This Plate Appearance Has 22 Pitches

I invite you to look at the image below. Please, go ahead.

Luis Guillorme swings at Jordan Hicks' tenth pitch.

That’s Jordan Hicks on the mound — you know, “strike one at 104” Jordan Hicks. At the plate is Mets utilityman Luis Guillorme. Hicks, on Sunday, was making his first appearance on the mound since undergoing Tommy John surgery in mid-2019. Guillorme played an extremely solid 30 games for the Mets in 2020 and is 5-for-15 this spring.

What is happening in this picture? Look at Guillorme’s feet — his right ankle rolled, his left heel lifting off the ground, his arms flinging the bat desperately through the air. Yadier Molina extends his arm, holding his glove in place. Look at the scorebug — the 1-2 count. This could very well have been a picture of Hicks striking out Guillorme.

Except it wasn’t. Guillorme got his bat on it, somehow — not the heat Hicks is best known for, but a slider at 86 — launching the ball somewhere into the leftward distance. It was the 10th pitch of the plate appearance, the eighth he’d seen with two strikes. Molina and the umpire watched it sail away. Hicks’ next pitch, at 99, nearly took Guillorme’s head off. The count was now even, and the plate appearance was still only halfway done. Read the rest of this entry »


Let Us Take a Moment To Appreciate the Angry Ballpark Goose

Given their disdain for our society, our laws, and our little entertainments, it makes sense that geese are not as common a visitor to professional ballparks as, say, cats. Geese prefer to create their own domains in areas less enclosed and busied by human activities, like golf courses and public green spaces. References to geese on baseball fields in old newspaper records are hard to find — perhaps because of the perceived non-newsworthiness of such incidents, perhaps because of the number of baseball players and ballparks with “Goose” in their names. But, every so often, a goose does appear on a field where major league baseball is being played. It happened just this week, in fact, at Sunday’s game between the Cubs and the Diamondbacks: a lone Canada goose in the grass at Salt River Fields, emanating hostility. It lurked behind Rafael Ortega, its eerily long neck extended outward, ready to strike anyone who might interfere with its presence there, its ego puffed up by the violence with which it had preserved its claim over the territory. Slo-mo footage showed how this goose had chased off another goose that landed on the field, clamping its screaming beak on the interloping goose’s back, tearing out a painful-looking number of feathers before the other goose was able to make its escape.

Naturally, coverage of the carnage tended toward shock at the goose’s willingness to fight for its claim to a spot in the outfield, and its unwillingness to leave said spot. The video above is titled “Goose invades baseball field!”; other headlines include “A goose took over [the] outfield,” “Angry goose wanders onto field,” and “A**hole Goose Won’t Get Out of Center Field.” While the level of intention ascribed to the goose differs, what can be agreed upon is that center field was not where the goose — and, by extension, any goose — is supposed to be. Read the rest of this entry »


Baseball on the Radio, 100 Years Later

This season, for the first time since the Toronto Blue Jays played their inaugural games in 1977, there will not be a dedicated radio broadcast of their games. Instead of a radio team broadcasting the game, the audio from television broadcasts will be simulcast to radio listeners. Rogers, the Canadian telecom giant that owns both the Blue Jays and the networks they are broadcast on, has made assurances that this is merely a safety measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But it is unclear what the plans are for the future of the Blue Jays on the radio. Longtime broadcaster Mike Wilner was laid off this winter, and there has been no replacement announced; even apart from the loss of a Jays radio broadcast, the AM sports radio landscape in Canada has taken significant blows recently, with Bell Media, another telecom giant, unceremoniously taking a number of local stations off the air last month. Should this season prove to Rogers that having a dedicated radio broadcast is an expense not worth carrying into the future, Blue Jays baseball on the radio could prove to be another one of the casualties of the pandemic.

It’s been almost a century since the first major league baseball game was broadcast over the radio: an early-August game between the Pirates and the Phillies in 1921. Despite resistance from both traditional print media and team ownership, the popularity of such broadcasts took off, sparking a conflict that would fundamentally change the revenue structure of major league baseball. In his book Crack of the Bat: A History of Baseball on the Radio, James R. Walker writes about the forces that changed the attitudes of baseball higher-ups towards the broadcasting of baseball on the radio. Declining attendance was at first, and stubbornly, blamed on radio broadcasting, leading team ownership to call for bans on such broadcasts. But with the growing influence and financial power of advertising in broadcasting and the realization that radio was a boon to developing geographically-displaced fandom (especially in the western United States, where many people lived far from a major-league team), fewer and fewer teams held out against the practice.

There was, at the same time, a fundamental shift in what the purpose of such broadcasts was. As Walker writes, the World Series, from 1921 until 1933, was broadcast on the radio — not because it was lucrative to do so, but as a service to the country’s interested public. In 1934, though, commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis sold the rights to the World Series broadcast to the Ford Motor Company. Within a few years, a federal judge would hand down a decision naming baseball broadcasts on the radio as the property of the teams involved, and New York, the last holdout of broadcast bans, embraced this new revenue stream. Read the rest of this entry »


Shohei Ohtani, Into the Future

Shohei Ohtani has already done it. There’s a video on YouTube you can watch if you want to — hundreds, actually, but I’m thinking of one in particular. Over 22 minutes long, and all of it beyond belief. There is the best pitcher in the league, with the diving splitter, with the fastball no one can catch up with; there is the best hitter, with his OPS over 1.000, launching baseballs with such power that they seem to disappear off the bat, flying over scoreboards, into streets, to the very furthest reaches of where you could imagine a human being could hit a baseball. And it is the same person, just one person, doing both of these things. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. But you can see it, right now. Back then, too, people saw it. Millions of people: watching from their homes, from bars, from the stands, where they held up signs, held their breath, waiting for the next feat to come.

This was in 2016. Ohtani was only 21 years old.

***

It’s hard to believe that the spring of 2018, when Ohtani played his first games with the Angels, was only three years ago. It seems like so much longer. Partially because so much happened so fast. One moment, it was the Ohtani Sweepstakes of 2017-18, with the number of teams being gradually narrowed, the reports trickling in, each fanbase eventually resigning themselves to his absence, except for the one that won out. There was a brief time of dreaming, all smiles and photoshoots, slotting his name into imaginary batting orders alongside Mike Trout — and then it was time for spring, when it didn’t matter and you didn’t have to worry about it, except it did, and you did, too. Those first few outings — the walks from the mound, the strikeouts at the plate — the crowing from fans who would have you believe they never wanted the guy in the first place, the reports from anonymous scouts saying it wouldn’t play, it couldn’t play, not here in the big leagues.

But it played. From the very beginning, it played — like it had been scripted. A solid, winning start — a home run, launched, with the bases nearly full — a high five to an imaginary line of teammates, and then the real celebration. A perfect game taken into the seventh inning. More trips around the bases. He’s already done it. Why not again? Why not now, with even more millions of people watching? Read the rest of this entry »