Your Humble Blogger is a baseball fan. I know some of my Gentle Readers are fans, and some are not. For those who are not, here’s a taste of what it’s like. I’ll probably bore those of you who are already fans, since I’m trying, here, to talk to people who don’t know anything. By the way, I started writing this two weeks ago, now, so some of the stuff in it is kind of old, but the point is to give an impression of a half-hour or so of fandom, rather than to release breaking news about the baseball season.
Last week, on the 29th of August, my Giants played the Braves, in Atlanta. In the sixth inning (out of nine), the Giants were ahead five to three, which is a nice lead but not an insurmountable one. The Braves are trying to “stay in the game”, which means stay within three runs or so. The Giants are trying to “put this one away”, by which we mean getting a lead of five or more runs, making it hard for the Braves to catch up. It’s getting late in the game, so things are getting urgent. The Giants have already taken out their starting pitcher, and have a relief pitcher in; the Braves starter is still in.
Let’s put the game in context. It’s the 29th of August. The Braves are leading their division pretty handily, and are certain to make the playoffs. The Giants, on the other hand, are well behind in their division; they are “five-and-a-half games back”, which means that they need to win six more games than the division leader before the end of the season thirty games from now in order to catch up. There is also a Wild-Card spot in the playoffs; the Giants after the Cubs and Padres games earlier in the day, the Giants are a half-game back, which means if they win this game, they will be tied. In short, the Braves can afford to lose this game, but the Giants can’t.
Now, the sixth inning starts. Marquis Grissom, our elderly (thirty-eight) right-fielder leads off with a single. Russ Ortiz, the Braves pitcher, walks Dustin Mohr, which puts him on first base, and moves Marquis Grissom to second. Rally, rally. Now, it’s our pitcher’s turn to come to the plate. Jason Christensen is a relief pitcher, who rarely holds a bat; pitchers are notoriously bad hitters, and relief pitchers even more so. So if he comes to the plate, it will almost certainly be an out. Three outs to an inning, twenty-seven to the game. Outs are the equivalent of a game clock; when you run out of outs, the inning or the game is over. So, the Giants manager, Felipe Alou, pinch-hits for Jason Christensen.
OK, pinch-hitting. In baseball, once somebody has been in a game and left, that person is through. You can’t come back off the bench later in the game. There are twenty-five players on the roster; eight of them are on the field at their positions, one (our starting pitcher) has already left, and one (our relief pitcher) is leaving. In addition, there are four starting pitchers who are not available, since they either are still resting from a recent game or are needed for the next game or two. So, our bullpen has 6 pitchers, and our bench has 5 players. Felipe Alou has decided to decrease the odds of making an out here and now, at the expense of having more options later. So he sends Ricky Ledee up to the plate. Ricky Ledee is a bad hitter, having a streak of outs that is absolutely atrocious, but he’s got a better chance than Jason Christensen. I’d guess he has a maybe a one in three chance at getting on base. Maybe less.
At this point, the Braves manager, Bobby Cox, decides that Russ Ortiz is through, and replaces him. They send Tom Martin in as their relief pitcher. He’s trying, of course, to maximize his chances of getting an out here, as with two men on base, a hit is likely to score a run. So they bring in a left-handed pitcher, to face our left-handed batter. Because of the way the pitch comes across the pitcher’s body, and the way the batter stands, right-handed pitchers, in general, do better against right-handed batters than lefties, and vice versa, and so on. Since Ricky Ledee hits lefty, they put in a lefty. Tom Martin isn’t a very good lefty, but he’s a lefty, and Ricky Ledee has only, say, a thirty-percent chance to get on base against him.
I’m listening on the radio (through the internet). When there’s a pitching change, the new pitcher has a chance to warm up, and the broadcasters have a chance to go to commercial. I go in to the kitchen and get a cup of tea. On the radio, people are urging me to buy local Atlanta stuff. I come back and wait. The suspense is killing me.
Felipe Alou pinch-hits for Ricky Ledee with Cody Ransom. Now the lefty-righty matchup favors the Giants again. Cody Ransom also can’t hit; he’s got about a thirty-percent chance of getting on base as well. Actually, he has a more pronounced lefty-righty split than most, so it’s possible that against a lefty (such as Tom Martin), he may have as much as a forty-percent chance of getting on base. Remember what’s going on: men on first and second, the Giants lead by two in the sixth, if the Giants lose this game they fall behind in the wild-card race, and further behind in their division. I’m drinking tea. Ricky Ledee has gone out of the game; we now have only 3 players left on the bench. One of them is the backup catcher, by the way. We only have one backup catcher, and if we use him up and our starting catcher gets hurt, we’re in trouble, so Yorvit Torrealba is not an option in the sixth. So really, after this set of maneuvers, we’re down to two players on the bench.
Now, Tom Martin pitches to Cody Ransom, and Cody Ransom bunts. What does that mean? It’s a ‘sacrifice’, a deliberate attempt to make an out in a particular way, moving the runners up. The batter hits the ball softly, making the infielders come in to get it, leaving nobody to cover the base while the runners advance, meaning that the only out is the easy one at first. It’s a trade. You give up one of the three outs in the inning to advance the runners. You only want to do it, in my opinion, if there’s a good chance of an out anyway, and as I said, Cody Ransom had a good chance of making an out anyway. But, um, couldn’t Ricky Ledee have made that sacrifice? For that matter, couldn’t Jason Christianson have done it? Now, we’ve got two more men out of the game, and an out. I am, quietly and with dignity, screaming at the radio.
Next man to the plate is Ray Durham, a good hitter. Bobby Cox walks him intentionally. This is a sort of sacrifice on the defensive side; they give up a chance to get him out (Ray Durham will get on base around 35% of the time), but they won’t give up a run, since first base is empty. They do get a couple of benefits (increased chance of a double-play, a force play at the plate makes it easier to get the out there, which would prevent a run scoring), but they have a couple of drawbacks as well (a walk drives in a run, a double might score three instead of two) and, most important, they have given a free pass. Ray Durham won’t make an out. I am, quietly and with dignity, mocking Bobby Cox, who can’t hear me.
The next batter is J.T. Snow, who has been hitting very well lately, but hits lefties particularly badly. This is the match-up that Bobby Cox wanted when he walked Ray Durham; it’s probably the match-up he wanted when he put Tom Martin in two batters ago. Most batters have a difference lefty-righty, but J.T. Snow has a pronounced difference. Stinks on ice is the technical term. (Remember that the Giants could have pinch-hit for him, but the obvious choice of pinch-hitter, Cody Ransom, was used up bunting already). So. Strike one, called (he didn’t swing, but the umpire says it’s in the strike zone). Ball One. Ball Two. Strike Two, called. Ball Three. Have I mentioned that the Giants really need to win this one? He doesn’t swing at the next pitch either, and it’s called Strike Three. I respond quietly, and with dignity, and make my language fit for those around me (the Perfect Non-Reader is in for her nap).
Now there are two outs; one out left in the inning. Bases loaded. Pedro Feliz up. And Bobby Cox pulls Tom Martin, to have Kevin Gryboski face him. Righty-Righty. You know. Back to the kitchen for more tea. More ads for local Atlanta stores. More quiet dignity. More suspense.
Pedro Feliz steps in against Kevin Gryboski with the bases loaded and two outs. And here, Gentle Reader, is where I’ll bring up the thing that I’ve been thinking about for a while whilst listening, that Bobby Cox and Felipe Alou have been thinking about, and that the baseball fans among you will have seen coming: Barry Bonds is the next batter. For the non-fans among you who manage to ignore the game entirely, Barry Bonds is the best hitter in baseball this year, was the best hitter in baseball last year and the year before and the year before that. Not only is he the best slugger, but (and this is key) he is the hardest to get out. If Barry Bonds comes up this inning, with men on base, there is a very good chance runs are going to score, and the Giants are going to take a very nice lead. On the other hand, Happy Pete (as I call him) is a reasonably good hitter but scarcely certain to get on base. And Kevin Gryboski is really pretty good against right-handed hitters. So if they get him out, the inning is over, and Barry doesn’t bat until the seventh, when there will be nobody on base. If they can’t get him out, not only will at least one run score now, but Barry Bonds will be in a position to crack the game wide open.
Digression: If we wanted to pinch-hit with a lefty, here, to get a better match-up we would use, let’s see, Ricky Ledee. Oh, no, so sorry, he was used up earlier this inning, remember? We do have one other lefty, Michael Tucker, but somebody would have to replace Happy Pete at third base, which we could do with Edgardo Alfonso, except that he’s being given an off-day to rest. Mssrs Tucker, Alfonso and the aforementioned back-up catcher Torrealba are the only remaining Giants on the bench at this point. A good radio announcer will mention things like who is on the bench, and what the managers’ options are, but it’s nice to have all the details and stats available on-line as I’m listening as well. End Digression.
So. Giants are ahead five to three. Bases loaded. Two outs. Kevin Gryboski, right-handed relief pitcher faces Pedro Feliz, right-handed batter. Ball One. Ball Two. Remember, a walk not only brings home a run (and a three-run lead) but brings Barry Bonds up with the bases loaded. Did I mention that Barry Bonds hit a single his first time up? Or that he hit a home run his second? Or that he hit another home run his third? No? Let’s go on, as is YHB’s wont, quietly and with dignity.
Strike One. Damn. Next pitch.
A soft ground ball to Chipper Jones at third! He has no play! Safe all round!!!! Giants six, Braves three, and here ... comes ... Barry! Bar-ry! Bar-ry! And here’s the pitch... through the infield for a hit! Dustan Mohr scores! Ray Durham rounds third and scores! The Giants lead eight � three! Hurray! This game is ours! Haha! Hahahahahaha!
Um. I’ll save y’all most of the rest. A.J. Pierzynski strikes out to end the inning; the Giants ultimately win 9 to 5. You’ve got the idea. This was the most exciting half-inning, but it was only one-half inning out of eighteen; this was a fairly exciting game, but it was one game out of a hundred and sixty-two. I don’t listen to every game, but I listen to as many as I can. This year I’ve listened to about forty, I’d guess. In 1993, I listened to, watched on tv, or attended something in the area of 120 games. Most of them have some moments like the top of the sixth, 29th August, 2004. Some of them were much, much more exciting.