Yu Darvish Drew a Four-Pitch RBI Walk

The Cubs didn’t lose to the Dodgers last night because Carl Edwards Jr. walked Yu Darvish with the bases loaded. The Cubs aren’t on the verge of getting swept by the Dodgers in the NLCS because Carl Edwards Jr. walked Yu Darvish with the bases loaded. The Cubs are losing because their series OBP is .202, while the Dodgers are up at .360. They’re losing because their series SLG is .266, while the Dodgers are up at .484. They’re losing because their pitchers have 18 walks and 20 strikeouts, while the Dodgers’ pitchers have 4 and 32. The Dodgers have been, by far, the better team. It’s the simplest possible explanation.

The Cubs are losing because they’ve been worse. That’s not Edwards’ fault. And you never know when things could flip; in last year’s NLCS, the Cubs were blanked in back-to-back games. They’re still the reigning champs until they’re gone. But the Cubs are losing because they’ve been worse. Edwards’ walk of Darvish didn’t turn the series on its head. It’s more about the symbolism. It captures the story of how the series has gone. Have I mentioned that Darvish walked on four pitches? With the bases loaded and two out in a two-run game, Darvish took four balls in a row.

It’s not even clear Darvish should’ve been hitting in the first place. In fact, if anything, allowing him to go to the plate was unwise. He was pitching well, sure, but the Dodger bullpen has also pitched well, and there’s an enormous offensive difference between Darvish and, say, Curtis Granderson, who briefly stood in for Darvish in the on-deck circle. I’m not going to put any numbers in front of you. Just know that, as a hitter, Darvish is terrible. It’s easy to see that he’s terrible. In the fifth, he had successfully put down a bunt, but in the third, he took three pitches for three strikes. Darvish can’t hit. The game was in the sixth inning, with the Dodgers up 3-1. There was an opportunity to pile on. Dave Roberts let Darvish dig in.

Roberts wasn’t playing nine-dimensional chess. Roberts wasn’t leaning in the dugout, figuring that batting Darvish would somehow mess with Edwards’ head. The idea was simple and straightforward: Roberts would eat the out, in exchange for trying to stretch Darvish another inning or so. That’s all it was, and Roberts was probably assuming the out from the beginning. Pitchers suck. Especially in the playoffs. That’s when pitchers hit against other good pitchers.

Thing is, Darvish did somehow mess with Edwards’ head. We’ve already seen, in the playoffs, that Edwards’ location comes and it goes. But Darvish digging in put Edwards in an unfamiliar spot. And in baseball, unfamiliar usually means uncomfortable. Edwards lost the zone.

When pitchers batted with the bases loaded during the regular season, they saw strikes 76% of the time. That’s a whole lot of strikes, reflecting the fact that, to the pitchers on the mound, the pitchers in the box aren’t perceived as a threat. There’s every reason to get aggressive. Said Edwards, after the fact:

“Do I wish I threw three straight pitches down the middle?” Edwards said. “Of course. But it didn’t happen.”

Darvish, though, didn’t just stand there. He didn’t hold the bat up and look helpless. Sometimes when a pitcher bats, he looks like he’s already defeated. Darvish had a good idea he wasn’t going to swing, but he attempted another form of offense, so to speak. Darvish went on the attack with his passivity. He said later:

“Facing a guy who throws 95, 96 with a cutter, he’s got something special going,” Darvish said through an interpreter. “I didn’t think I had a chance to hit. So I just wanted to try to do something, draw a walk or maybe get hit by pitch. Anything just to score runs.”

Darvish wanted to crowd the plate and look distracting. Anything to try to throw off Edwards’ focus. He figured that might be his only prayer, and, indeed, it probably was. When Edwards throws strikes, he’s tremendously difficult to hit. So Darvish tried to get him to just not throw strikes.

Look how far forward Darvish is in the box. He wanted to try to take away the inner half, and, more than that, he wanted Edwards to see something he doesn’t usually see. Of course Darvish wasn’t going to bunt. Of course he certainly wasn’t going to bunt on the first pitch. But as Edwards began his motion and set his sights on the target, he saw a hitter leaning forward, bat outstretched. He saw that he had a smaller-than-usual margin of error. This was already a circumstance that called for precision. Darvish effectively tried to take away a spot.

We’re always tempted to treat ballplayers as weighted number generators. That’s how they function over larger samples, and that’s what allows for comprehensive study. But right away, there was a sign that Edwards was feeling the moment. Before Darvish came up, he’d thrown seven fastballs, averaging 94.8 miles per hour. The slowest of them was 93.6. The first pitch to Darvish was a fastball at 91.4. It missed. Willson Contreras called for a conference.

It’s never a good thing to have to meet by the mound when the opposing pitcher is hitting. Roberts thought he might’ve been giving the Cubs a break. For Edwards, the challenge was so easy it went all the way back around to difficult.

Second pitch, fastball, 90.0. Edwards took even more off from the first pitch. People talk about how sometimes pitchers might sacrifice velocity for command. Maybe it’s easier to locate if you don’t try to throw as hard as you can. On the other hand, maybe if you’re accustomed to throwing as hard as you can, taking something off could mess with your mechanical timing. Edwards missed up. Note that Darvish moved more forward. Compared to the first pitch, second-pitch Darvish appears bolder. His upper body leans closer to the zone. Darvish wasn’t about to let up.

Out came Contreras again.

Chris Bosio followed.

Two pitches into a plate appearance against the opposing pitcher, Edwards was visited twice by his catcher, and once by his pitching coach. In case Edwards wasn’t already feeling the moment, those visits would’ve only driven the point home. It’s impossible to identify whether any mound visit is helpful or hurtful, but you can see how going out to try to get Edwards settled down could just as easily backfire. Observers always talk about how elite-level athletes perform almost subconsciously, without wanting to have to think. The Cubs got Edwards thinking. He was thinking about how badly he needed to throw Yu Darvish a strike.

Fastball, 92.8. At least Edwards wasn’t trying to lob it up there anymore. But still, he normally throws harder than that. And, look one more time at Darvish. On the first pitch, he crowded the plate and faked a bunt. On the second pitch, he crowded the plate and faked a bunt. On the third pitch, he crowded the plate and made no bunting motion. Instead, Darvish held the bat upright, and as Edwards was preparing to throw, Darvish dropped his hands literally into the strike zone. Watch again. Watch as many times as you need to. Darvish was trying to create the illusion of zero space. It’s something a player might try to do in Little League, and this behavior doesn’t exist in the majors, but that might be the very reason why Darvish came away successful. Edwards wasn’t sure how to react.

3-and-0. No matter what players might say, they can always hear the crowd, and by this point, there was an active murmur. The margin of error had been reduced to nothing. No more room for any mistakes. Edwards made his final mistake.

Fastball, 92.3. Edwards still tried to baby it. That’s a hell of a pitch at 0-and-2. Not so much at 3-and-0, sailing clearly wide of the plate. Darvish, for his part, went back to showing bunt. He wasn’t, of course, going to actually bunt, because if he had bunted then and there, the Dodgers might’ve released him immediately. It was all for the sake of creating a distraction, in some way disrupting Edwards’ routine, and based on the results, it worked. Look at Darvish pump his fist. Look at Darvish throw his bat. The way Darvish felt, he earned that walk. He made Carl Edwards Jr. sufficiently uncomfortable.

I wanted to make fun of this postgame quote from Brandon Morrow:

“He did an awesome job of making the pitcher uncomfortable. He was hanging so far over the plate, [Edwards] is probably thinking, ‘What’s this guy thinking?’ He’s sticking his elbow out far and wiggling his bat and doing the Little League thing. Whatever works. That got us pumped up to see him really commit to trying to draw a walk, doing whatever it took.”

I wanted to say something like how committing to trying to draw a walk is like committing to trying to get the person in front of you in line at the cafe to buy your coffee. It’s not really something you can make happen; it’s something that sometimes just happens. I wanted to say that, but after going over the video several times, I think it wouldn’t be right. Most of the time, pitchers will throw strikes. Especially when they don’t have to worry about the hitter. But Darvish wasn’t just a patient hitter. He was very aggressively displaying how badly he didn’t want to swing. Edwards has probably never seen that in the major leagues. Which put him in a difficult situation when there was no room for mistakes.

Jerry Blevins could sympathize:

Jerry Blevins could sympathize because, this season, he issued a four-pitch bases-loaded walk to Pedro Baez. This season, there were four such walks of pitchers, and eight bases-loaded walks of pitchers overall. But then, no one really cares about the regular season when it comes time for the playoffs. In recorded playoff history, pitchers have walked with the bases loaded seven times. Jim Palmer actually did it twice in the same game in Game 2 of the 1971 World Series. But until last night, it hadn’t happened since 1977. Larry Christenson walked in a full count. Then there were 97 subsequent walk-free bases-loaded pitcher plate appearances. Enter Yu Darvish. Enter Carl Edwards Jr. Four pitches and a few mound conferences later, the Dodgers stretched their lead an extra run.

After Darvish walked, the lineup turned over, and Chris Taylor dug in, having already homered and tripled. Edwards went back to work trying to strand the runners where they were. Three pitches later, the inning ended, as Taylor struck out.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe
6 years ago

This was awesome, but where is our Josh Reddick drawing the *third* catcher’s interference of this postseason reaction!

6 years ago

We need to find out whether he’s been taking hitting lessons from Jacoby Ellsbury.

6 years ago
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