With 11 strikeouts in six innings in his start against the Dodgers last week, Yu Darvish reached 1,500 major-league strikeouts in fewer innings than anyone else in history. Playing in NPB from 2005 to 2012, he racked up 1,250 strikeouts.
Last year he was close to becoming Rookie of the Year, even though one might well consider him a veteran: a pro since he was 18 back in 2005, a decade of experience carried with him. But on this continent, he is not the ubiquitous superstar he is at home. The things he is capable of — the command, when he’s on, of almost every pitch imaginable; the apparent ease with which he can induce whiffs and strikeouts — are still brand new.
He began this season with a 14-strikeout game — an out away from completing the game on his own. Now, deep in the summer heat of August, he has racked up four such games. And here he is, at work on another one. In the eighth, with one out (strikeout 14), he has yet to allow a hit.
But it only takes one swing, and the tenuous lead he has been protecting all this time is cut in half: one hit on the board now, one run. So he comes back with another strikeout. The first one this inning was a strikeout looking, but this one is a strikeout swinging — his 109th pitch, impossibly placed, moving as though manipulated by invisible hands. “15,” the scorebug flashes — strikeout number 15. And if it’s thrilling, or if it’s tiring, or if he is reaching the end of his rope, there is no sign of it: just an exhale, a circling of the mound, a return — one more batter, just one more. Read the rest of this entry »
Oh my god, sorry I’m so late. Sorry. I can’t believe it! I mean, first of all, I can’t believe they still let me into the stadium this late. Thank goodness the game isn’t over yet. Otherwise that would have been a waste of time and money, right? Haha. You should have seen the traffic, it was– right, right, sorry, it’s the bottom of the ninth. I’ll let you focus. Wait, who’s pitching? That doesn’t look like Jansen. That’s the guy’s name, right? Jansen? Oh, Treinen. Yeah, right, I knew that. Duh! Don’t know where I got Jansen from, but you know me and my weird brain. The stuff I come up with sometimes! Especially after sitting in traffic like that, I mean–
Right, right, sorry! Yes! There’s a guy on first, one of the red guys. But they’re winning, right? The Dodgers, I mean. The blue ones. Obviously. So we don’t have to be worried. LET’S GO DODGERS!
Don’t worry, we’re not going to miss anything. Everyone’s just standing around on the field. Most exciting sport there is, am I right? Haha. You know I’m kidding, though. Love baseball. Love the game. Thanks for buying me a ticket, by the way. Feels like old times again. Not just before COVID, I mean, I haven’t been to one of these in, what, ten years? Was that ten years ago already? When you made me go that one time back when we were roommates, and then we had to leave early because I got dehydrated and was vomiting nachos everywhere, and then you were so mad because one of the guys did something and we missed it, like it was some kind of “historic day,” and we just listened to the radio broadcast in silence sitting in traffic all the way home and you wouldn’t talk to me for a week. That was brutal, man. Like, sorry, but that was kind of mean, and I still feel like you really overreacted. You could see how much suffering I was experiencing, and you knew that I couldn’t have brought a water bottle because I fell on the stairs and broke my Nalgene. It was a really dark time for me, and I went to all that trouble to come with you to the game, you know, taking all that time out of my day to go all the way here and back with you, and you weren’t being a very helpful friend. Not that I’m still mad about it or anything. Oh, wait, is he throwing the ball now? Are they done talking on their microphone thingies? Read the rest of this entry »
No one thought that the Arizona Diamondbacks were going to contend for their division this year. It’s been nearly a decade since any team other than the Dodgers took that title; the buzz factor, the splashy acquisitions, newly belonged to the Padres; and it didn’t take too long before the Giants proved themselves formidable contenders, too. The Rockies were, as expected, back in the rearview mirror, another star bitterly departed, their GM resigned, reports of organizational dysfunction hovering around them. What, then, of the Diamondbacks? To linger — to play spoiler, maybe. To continue onward, even if only because they have to. “#RattleOn” — that’s their hashtag. One imagines the heat, a bone-deep drought, a sound — low to the ground and strange — carrying out into the unfurling darkness until you can hear it no longer. The sound is a warning, or an object of childish entertainment, or a sigh whose meaning remains frustratingly unclear. It persists even after it’s gone.
Last week, the Diamondbacks lost seven games in a row. Six of those games were on the road. The Diamondbacks have, in fact, lost 19 consecutive road games. The record for most consecutive road losses is 22 — a mark achieved once by the Philadelphia Athletics in 1943, and later by none other than the New York Mets in 1963. No team has ever lost exactly 21 road games in a row — an entirely different Philadelphia Athletics team lost 20 straight in 1916. And there, the next name down the list: the 2021 Arizona Diamondbacks, winners of just under a third of the games they’ve played.
The Diamondbacks lost in Oakland. Ketel Marte crashed into the Coliseum, making an incredible catch — and then the ball disappeared from his glove when his back was turned. The final score was 4-0, anyway. They were unable to scratch a run across against Sean Manaea, just as they’d only managed two in seven innings off Chris Bassitt the day before. Before that, they lost in Milwaukee — a tie carried into the eighth lost and never recovered; mostly, deficits whose heights couldn’t be scaled, no matter how slight. They were swept in LA by the Dodgers; in Denver, by the lowly Rockies; in Queens by the Mets and in Miami by the Marlins. Their last road win was on April 25. They swept the doubleheader in Atlanta, 5-0 and 7-0. They were, at that point, exactly .500. Read the rest of this entry »
It was a Fourth of July spectacle in Boston in 1948: the final game of a three-game set between the Red Sox and Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics, the latter just a half-game behind Cleveland in the American League race. The Red Sox had failed to muster much of any offense against the A’s in the previous two games, losing by scores of 4-2 and 8-2. This final contest, though, was proving more competitive. A’s starter Carl Scheib held the Red Sox to just a run through the first four innings; the Red Sox’s Ellis Kinder held the A’s scoreless. The Red Sox added another run in the fifth; the A’s answered by taking a one-run lead in the top of the sixth. The Red Sox got three more runs back in the bottom of the inning, giving them the lead once again, and knocking Scheib out of the game. The A’s tied it up again in the top of the seventh. For a brief, peaceful moment, the score was a calm, reasonable 5-5.
I mentioned that Scheib had been knocked out of the game in the sixth. The reliever responsible for the last out of the inning was a rookie by the name of Charles Harris, also known as Charlie, or Charley, or, apparently, Bubba. Charlie Harris was 22 years old, and since making his debut in April of that year, had been a very reliable reliever for Mack’s team. He even pitched a scoreless seven-inning hold. Entering the July 4 game in the bottom of the seventh, he had a 1.09 ERA.
Ted Williams led off the inning with a walk. A bunt single followed, then another walk. Yet another walk gave the Red Sox the lead. Four batters in, and it was clear that Harris didn’t have it — he had never before walked more than two batters in a pitching appearance. But Mack left him in. It was Harris’s inning, and Harris needed to finish it. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s just under 150 miles by road from Vancouver to Seattle — not necessarily an easy round-trip distance, but one that’s covered easily enough over the course of a day, given planning around border waits and traffic. It’s certainly a more reasonable distance to cover than the thousands of miles over mountain and prairie to the only other major league ballpark within Canada’s borders. For most people in western Canada, the most frequent major league ballpark they’ll make a trip to is Seattle’s T-Mobile Park.
I’ve gone to T-Mobile Park via a few different means of transportation. When I was a toddler, my family would sometimes take day trips down in the car when the Blue Jays or Yankees were in town. We weren’t able to go for many years after that, but when we did manage to take trips down in 2016 and ’17, it was a matter of a great deal of planning: making sure the car wouldn’t break down on the way (or renting one, when we didn’t have a car), accounting for the cost of tickets and food and parking. Not to mention, too, the amount of time that would need to be committed. Added up, these trips were luxuries, a single day a year set aside for a baseball pilgrimage.
By far the most frequent way I’ve gotten to T-Mobile Park, though, is the bus. There was the Greyhound, or the Bolt Bus, or one of the other interchangeable bargain travel services that operated cross-border routes. They were frequently late, often unhelpful, and almost always uncomfortable, but they fulfilled their purpose: For someone who didn’t have a car, or couldn’t access a rental, they were a cheap way of getting from Point A to Point B.
The first time I took the bus to a baseball game in Seattle was by chance, a happy accident. My partner and I had taken a weekend trip on the Greyhound down to Olympia to see the final date of a concert tour. But our return trip was delayed: the bus coming up from LA had run into some kind of horrible traffic, and we sat for almost three hours in the stuffy, sometimes unstaffed, exceedingly cramped bus station in Olympia. As a result, we missed our evening transfer in Seattle. By the time we got there, it would be another three hours of waiting for the next bus up to Vancouver at 10 PM. Read the rest of this entry »
It’s April 27. The Blue Jays may not be dominant — their roster has been decimated by injuries — but they are getting by, at least so far. They have just taken a rare series from the Rays in St. Petersburg; after a lengthy road trip, they now return to their home away from home in Dunedin, with Max Scherzer awaiting them on the mound.
On a bullpen day, the Nationals quickly take a 3-0 lead: two home runs from Trea Turner, another from Yadiel Hernandez. Scherzer erases singles in the first and second on double plays. But in the third, things start to happen: back-to-back singles from Alejandro Kirk and Cavan Biggio. A Bo Bichette walk loads the bases for Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
Guerrero hit into the double play that ended the first inning — just the second time he’s grounded into a double play this season, a ball he scorched into the dirt at 109 mph. He’s 1-for-11 over the past few games. He fouls off Scherzer’s first pitch, a slider in the zone; he watches two that miss. The fourth slider stays up. A grand slam, and the Jays lead. Read the rest of this entry »
Within the first Dodgers-Cubs game of Tuesday’s doubleheader was one of the worst-executed plays at the plate that I’ve ever seen in a major-league game.
Let’s not even get into the fact that it was the bottom of the third and Clayton Kershaw had given up four runs in the first inning — after which he left the game, in the shortest start of his career. Here, Kyle Hendricks was up to the plate. Not a pitcher known for his slugging capabilities. There were two out, and Dennis Santana was in an ideal position to strand the two baserunners he had allowed.
Instead, he spiked a pitch in front of home plate. It careened off Will Smith’s shin pad, off into oblivion. Another run came scampering home, and as it did, Smith attempted to throw Santana the ball to make a tag. He did this as he was falling backward, twisting on one leg, and it bounced in the dirt in front of Santana, who was not at all ready to make a play at home. It caromed off his leg, over toward the backstop. Santana tried to avoid the obstacle of the runner, but by the time he got to the ball, the second runner had already scored, and there was nobody there to make an attempt at tagging him out. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
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 »