Welcome to our recap of the fourth episode of “Pitch”, entitled “The Break”. Many of you were likely too busy watching that wild NLDS Game 5 to have gotten around to this episode at time of posting, so proceed with caution, as there are spoilers.
The All-Star break has arrived in the “Pitch” universe. As in real life, the 2016 All-Star Game takes place in San Diego. What feels less like real life is that MLB is paying serious attention to an online campaign to get a player into the game who wasn’t voted in by the fans.
Ginny Baker (Kylie Bunbury), by this point, has probably been in the majors for about a month. We know she’s made at least four starts. Such brief tenure wouldn’t have given her enough time to make it into the All-Star Game via the fan vote.
But the fans want her there, as a petition with “36 million signatures” attests. An MLB PR person, advocating for Ginny’s inclusion in the game, describes this as “twice as many votes as any player is going to get.” More like nonuple: this year’s top vote-getter, Salvador Perez, got around 4 million votes.
It’s hard to imagine any of this really happening, but then there’s never been a situation quite like Ginny’s before.
Padres catcher Mike (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) is on the All-Star roster, but he’s hurting and won’t be able to play. Ginny’s agent, Amelia (Ali Larter), who’s having a fling with Mike, offers to help get him a job as an analyst on the postgame show.
Padres outfielder Blip (Mo McRae) thinks he may be chosen to replace Mike as the Padres’ representative. It’ll put the Sanders family’s Disney World vacation plans on hold, but they understand.
Except MLB decides to give Ginny the spot. Good news, kids, you’re still going to Disney World.
Once word gets out about Ginny’s selection, the inevitable debate about her deservingness begins. Ginny herself doesn’t feel like she should go, but her manager tells her to “Take the pity date.”
Although his team is hosting the All-Star Game, Padres general manager Oscar (Mark Consuelos) has other business to attend to. A Cuban catcher, Livan Duarte (Christian Ochoa), has successfully defected in Amsterdam. Livan, originally believed to be 22 years old, is really 26, meaning he doesn’t have to enter into the international draft and can be signed by any team as an international free agent. Apparently, the Padres have scouted Livan sufficiently, and Oscar heads to Amsterdam determined to sign him.
Ginny’s mother, Janet (Chastity Dotson), is in San Diego for the All-Star break, not yet aware that Ginny has been named to the All-Star team. Based on Janet’s tepid reaction to the news, there’s obviously some underlying tension between them. This week’s flashback sequences will explain that in time.
One of the most interesting things about this episode is how many real players are either shown or referenced by name. We see this first when Mike rehearses for his analyst gig with Fox Sports’ Chris Myers, C.J. Nitkowski and Dontrelle Willis. When asked about this year’s N.L. squad, Mike professes that “[Johnny] Cueto’s slide/cut combo is lethal,” and “[Max] Scherzer has the most legit one-through-four in the bigs,” both valid opinions.
Mike then gets into stats. He mentions Kris Bryant’s ISO of .292 (accurate). He decrees Bryant’s wRC+ of 153 last year to be “redonkulous” (inaccurate; Bryant’s 2016 first-half wRC+ was 153, whereas his 2015 wRC+ was 136). He pronounces Bryant’s wOBA of .412 — no, wait, .403 — “off the charts” (just slightly off — it was .404 at the break). We can either chalk the errors up to Mike’s nervousness, or to “Pitch” writers misreading FanGraphs. Your call, readers.
The Fox Sports guys are underwhelmed by Mike’s spiel. Nitkowski warns Mike, “You kind of sound like a stathead and not a ballplayer.” That’s a bad thing, in Nitkowski’s view.
Mike and Ginny take in the Home Run Derby. We see some hacks from a few of this year’s participants: Robinson Cano, Todd Frazier, and Mark Trumbo. Watching baseball’s big sluggers doesn’t exactly help Ginny’s nerves.
The Sanders family is in Florida when Blip is chosen at the (very) last minute to replace an injured Dexter Fowler on the All-Star roster. (Fowler did miss the 2016 All-Star Game due to a hamstring injury. Carlos Gonzalez started in his place, and Jay Bruce took his roster spot.) Blip’s wife, Evelyn (Meagan Holder), is happy for him, but can’t hide her disappointment that it’s ruining their vacation.
Now, I’ve never been related to a major-league baseball player, but Evelyn and Janet’s reactions to their loved ones being All Stars seem inauthentic. There are few higher honors in baseball than making the All-Star team. I’d have to think only uncommonly selfish people would view their family member making the cut as an inconvenience, even if both women had different expectations for the break.
Speaking of Janet, Ginny meets her for dinner after the Derby. Ginny, unaware that Mike and Amelia are seeing each other, has invited both of them along, to make things less awkward. Janet’s brought an unexpected guest, too: a beau, Kevin. Dinner ends abruptly when Kevin brings up Ginny’s deceased father, and she storms off.
The next day is the All-Star Game. We see a few real clips from the game, including Bryant’s first-inning home run off of Chris Sale.
Ginny comes in to pitch the bottom of the sixth with the score 4-3 in favor of the A.L. Buster Posey is catching, and Salvador Perez is at the plate. There’s a bit of drama surrounding this at-bat, as apparently Salvy cares about Ginny getting more online support than he did (according to Joe Buck and John Smoltz, anyway).
Also, Ginny’s mom isn’t there. What the hell, Janet.
Perez homers on Ginny’s first pitch, an 87 mph fastball over the heart of the plate. (In a continuity goof, the scoreboard says it’s an 80 mph slider.) Perez hit a home run in the actual All-Star Game, and that’s the footage they use here, Hollywood magic replacing Cueto with Bunbury. Perez’s home run really came in the bottom of the second, when he and fellow Royal Eric Hosmer both took Cueto deep. In the “Pitch” All-Star Game, Perez is the only batter Ginny faces.
Meanwhile, in Amsterdam, the Yankees have made the Cuban catcher an offer Oscar knows he can’t top. Instead, he tries to appeal to Livan based on their shared experiences. Both Oscar and Livan grew up poor — in Mexico and Cuba, respectively — playing baseball with doll heads because they couldn’t afford actual baseballs. It seems to work, but Livan warns Oscar, “I’m not sitting behind Mike Lawson.”
On the All-Star postgame show, Chris Myers asks Mike about Ginny’s performance. Mike begins by saying Perez swings at the first pitch “74% of the time.” That is much too high — Perez’s career first-pitch swinging percentage is 28.5%.
Mike seems ready to launch into another stat-filled monologue, but catches himself, instead choosing to speak off the cuff about how humbling baseball is. In a variation of the oft-quoted (but inaccurate) Ted Williams line, Mike claims that “Great hitters fail seven out of every 10 times at bat.” Come on, Mike. You cited wOBA earlier, yet you don’t get that success ought to be measured by how often a batter reaches base by any means, not just via hit?
Mike is kind of the worst stat head ever.
Myers then breaks the news that the Padres have signed Livan. “That guy’s not taking my job,” Mike says live on air for the entire nation to see.
This seems like it shouldn’t actually be a conflict. Livan is starting with the Padres’ Triple-A affiliate in El Paso, and Mike, whose body is wearing down in a hurry, has had thoughts of retiring after this season, anyway. So why exactly is he so concerned about the Padres signing a new catcher?
Throughout the episode, we’ve flashed back to key moments in Ginny’s relationship with her mother. Janet did her best to help Ginny be a normal teenage girl, despite her father’s grueling demands. However, while in high school, Ginny made the traumatic discovery that Janet was having an affair with Kevin (you know, the guy from dinner). Now we know Ginny wasn’t just being dramatic, and she had a pretty valid reason for being upset with her mother.
In the present, Ginny confronts Janet for not showing up to the All-Star Game. Janet expresses her heartbreak over Ginny shutting her out for so long. Ginny decides not to confess that she knew about the affair, instead opting to begin trying to patch things up with her mother, starting with breakfast tomorrow.
Elsewhere, Blip and Evelyn make amends after their spat. The episode ends with a late-night heart-to-heart phone call between Mike and Ginny.
Between the use of stats and the use of real players, this episode had a lot of fun baseball things over which to pore. Readers, I’m particularly interested in your thoughts about how the show balances real and fictional players.
We’ve seen the Padres play three different teams so far: the Dodgers, the Giants, and the Cardinals. Those games have featured only fictional players. Yet this episode revealed that many of the players from our universe also exist in the world of “Pitch”, which is a little difficult to reconcile, in my mind. If Corey Seager exists in the “Pitch” universe, then why is some fictional shortstop playing for the Dodgers when they face the Padres? It just feels a bit inconsistent as an artistic choice.
Feel free to weigh in on this, or anything else about this week’s episode.