Friday 6 April 2012

One minute in the 16th inning

260 pitches. 

J.P. Arencibia had caught 260 pitches in the five hours since the start of the Cleveland Indians' home opener. He had squatted 260 times and put down fingers, trying to guide his pitchers through the long early innings. He continued to do the same through the long, late innings. The ball hit his glove over two hundred times in those five hours. When it missed his glove, it hit his body, because that's what has to happen to a catcher when his pitcher misses the glove. He had thrown out a runner at second, and dove and tagged a runner out sliding into home plate. Right on his spikes. Some parts of J.P. Arencibia's body had to be hurting after five hours of that kind of punishment. Most likely, many parts of his body were hurting, more than he would care to admit.

And none of that effort mattered at all in this one minute. One minute in the top of the 16th inning. The only opening day 16th inning in Major Legue history. The mask and pads were sitting in the dugout. He had a bat in his hands, and a helmet on his head. He had a different job to do.
Courtesy of Daylife

Catchers who can hit well are a valuable commodity in the realm of Major League Baseball. The punishment doled out from being behind the plate, being involved in every pitch, takes its toll on the mind and body. When it comes time to grab the bat, catchers have already thrown more, moved around more, and had to think about defence more than anyone else on the diamond. It's harder to hit with sore hands. It's harder to generate power with sore knees. It's harder to focus when you've already set up for 250 pitches, trying to figure out a way to keep ahead of the opposing batter's adjustments.

Perhaps some of those factors can help explain why Arencibia looked down at his third base coach and saw a bunt sign that wasn't there. J.P. is not often called upon to bunt, which might be why he asked to see the signs again. Again, he saw a bunt sign that wasn't there. He has never sacrifice bunted successfully in his major league career. To noone's surprise, the bunt attempt resulted in another failure, in the form of a foul ball. The count was one ball, two strikes. J.P. Arencibia's career average with the count 1-2 was .134. Everybody in the park knew J.P. was in a horrible situation, and unlikely to be the hero. His odds of helping his team win were very long, indeed.

But baseball is magic.

The next pitch delivered by Jairo Asencio was the one labelled #4 in the following graphic.
Coutesy Brooks Baseball
A pitch which Arencibia punished, in exactly the way a flat slider down the heart of the plate should be punished. Three run homer. Nail in the Clevelan Indian's coffin. Celebration in the dugout.
Big shout out to Bluejaysbits for this one

In the long course of the 162 game baseball season, there will be a lot of moments, some predictable, some depressing, some amazing. This website exists so that we can all have a place to go to remember the moments that contain a little magic.


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