Game 2: Working the Count
Sometimes you hear a baseball statistic that kind of blows your mind and also seems perfectly obvious at exactly the same time.
Saturday night, Houston starter Framber Valdez pitched 6 1/3 innings.
It was the longest World Series start in almost exactly three years.
I’m sorry: What? Yes, of course, we all know about how starts have been getting shorter and shorter, particularly in the postseason. But really? This is the first time in three years that a manager sent a World Series pitcher out there to pitch in the seventh inning?
That seems, you know, more extreme than I realized.
I sometimes talk about how in baseball, nobody ever really consults us fans about what kind of game we enjoy watching. In football, they’re ALWAYS catering to the fans’ wishes. Oh, you want more offense? OK, we’ll stop letting defensive backs hit receivers. Oh, you love the passing game? OK, we’ll put in some rules to protect the quarterbacks better. Every year, they slightly adjust the rules — or quietly adjust how the rules are called — in order to make the game more engaging and exciting for fans. Scoring is down in the NFL this year. You better believe something will be done about it during the offseason. I wouldn’t be surprised if something is covertly being done right now.
But in baseball: Nobody consulted us on this whole “Let’s diminish the role of starting pitchers” thing. I think most of us kind of liked the idea of starting pitchers being at the center of games. I think most of us kind of liked watching Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson and Dwight Gooden and Steve Carlton and Greg Maddux and Pedro Martinez and also mere mortals try to figure out their way through lineups when their stuff was fading … and we also kind of liked watching batters trying to work out the eternal puzzle, “How do I get this guy?”
Nobody asked us if we would prefer a parade of nameless pitchers with outrageous stuff coming in, one after another after another, like the Droid Army.
I discussed some of this with my pal Keith Law on his podcast, and one point I tried to make is that I believe that hitters and pitchers are both the best they have ever been. But it doesn’t look that way; many people look at what’s happening in the game and they talk about how hitters are not as good as they used to be, they can’t go the other way, they strike out way too much, etc.
And that’s true, as far as it goes, but what they don’t acknowledge is that it isn’t a fair fight. If you have two great boxers in the ring, say Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, you get the Thrilla in Manilla. But what if in the third round, a manager comes in, takes the gloves from Joe Frazier, and hands them to George Foreman. And in the fourth, the manager calls for Joe Louis. And in the seventh, he calls for Rocky Marciano. And in the eighth, he calls for Mike Tyson, who gets in some trouble, so the manager stops the fight in the middle of the round and immediately brings in Evander Holyfield.
I mean, what chance does even Muhammad Ali have in a scenario like that?
One thing I’ve noticed throughout these playoffs, and particularly in the World Series, is