I realize I’ve been a bit aloof the past few days. Well, really more like a week. I arrived back home in the Duke City Wednesday afternoon, posted what I’d written in St. Louis the day before, and then promptly crashed. Since then, I’ve been otherwise engaged, most notably cheering on my alma mater New Mexico Lobos to a conference championship. However, I had a few little notes I wanted to pass along, things I saw on my just-concluded trip that I did want to share, even though they got left out of earlier posts.
Shifting strategies: during the game in Minnesota, I overheard a Twins fan behind me asking a friend if every batter was now “shift-worthy,” exacerbated by the constant repositioning of Blue Jay infielders for every batter, and sometimes during an at-bat. I’ll admit this is a level of the nuance of the game that I’m not always completely attuned to, especially not when I’m in a new ballpark and an unfamiliar city. However, it was impossible not to notice that whenever Minnesota’s Ryan Doumit came up, the Jays elected to play without a third baseman. Bret Lawrie would move from third base into shallow right field, between first and second. Well, there is a reason teams shift. On the scorecard you may see that Doumit was put out 5-3 in the 4th. That notation suggests a grounder along the left field line. It was actually a smash right between first and second that would have been a single to right if the Jays weren’t shifting.
Settling a score: It’s not just the players and umpires who (one would hope) perform at a higher level at the Major League level, I also believe that the official scorers—those folks who make the judgement calls on whether a play was a hit or an error as well as do the accounting to insure that the mountain of stats your fantasy-baseball players obsess over are accurate—should also be held to a higher standard in the bigs. While my opinion frequently differs from any of the gentlemen who score college and Triple-A games played at my local yard here in the Duke City, I’d never had a dispute with any scoring decisions at any big-league game I’ve seen until I got to St. Louis. What appeared to be an easy grounder off the bat of John Jay that Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster bobbled and dropped was, for some reason, scored as a hit. So convinced was I that it was an error, I scored the inning and the ensuing 4-run rally as if it had begun with an error—including declaring all 4 runs unearned—and didn’t notice that I was in disagreement with the official scorer for more than an inning afterward and saw a “0” in the errors column.
You won’t see that again: The Cardinals turned a 3-5-4 double play in the 8th. Here’s how it happened: with runners at first and second, Starlin Castro tried to bunt. Lance Berkman threw to third to force out the lead runner before David Freese threw back to first to get Castro out as well. I mentioned Taylor the über Cubs fan, but not that she was there with her father (another Cubs fan) and her uncle, who was rooting for the home team and teasing his niece to no end. He was saying “you might live to be a hundred and never see that again.” He may be right, but he was very nearly wrong. In the 9th, the Cubs again had runners at first and second. Again, the Cubs tried to bunt, again the Cards got the lead runner out at third, and again Freese tried to force out the batter at first. This time, his throw was wild and Darwin Barney scampered home all the way from first.
Unintended consequences: Baseball is a game of percentage plays, and sometimes, the percentages say the safest way to play an at-bat is to intentionally walk the man at the plate and hope you get the next guy. There are also other reasons for an “IBB.” For example, the Cardinals gave Darwin Barney a free pass to load the bases and bring up the pitcher with two out, forcing the Cubs to either make Dempster (a .000 hitter) do something with the bat or remove him for a pitch hitter—which they did. It was a double win for the Cards, not only did they get out of the inning unscathed when pinch-hitter Reed Johnson struck out, but they forced the Cubs to remove Dempster, who (don’t forget) they weren’t scoring any earned runs off of.
However, on this most recent road trip, I’ve seen the intentional walk do more harm than good in two separate games. In Milwaukee, down by one, the Cubs elected to walk Travis Ishikawa to load up the bases and face Edwin Maysonet, who immediately unloaded a mammoth grand slam and effectively ended the game. Two days later, the Cardinals walked Bryan LaHair (who they had not gotten out) to face Alfonso Soriano, who was batting .250 and who even Taylor had given up on. Soriano golfed a little Texas-Leaguer into shallow center to drive in what would become the decisive run.
Secondary recognition: There is someone out east on a similar baseball-related road trip, writing about his visits to minor and major league ballparks, who is also writing a blog about his travels. That blog is featured on the mlblogs.com main page today, and then underneath the teaser for his blog are “secondary links” including a young man who is trying to get to all 162 Brewers games (that’s home and away, folks), and—somewhat surprisingly—my little travelogue.