Saturday 29 December 2012

Guest Post: Blockbuster

A look back at magical moments from:
Special guest author Minor Leaguer from Bluebird Banter

“MAR-CO SCU-TA-RO! *clap clap clap clap clap*” There’s something magical about such a chantable name, isn’t there? 

San Francisco Giants fans had little reason to chant Marco Scutaro’s name when he was acquired from the Colorado Rockies for AAA prospect Charlie Culberson. They were in first place and just acquired a 36-year old infielder who was batting .271/.324/.361 in the thin air of Denver. The Giants needed someone to fill at the hot corner after Kung Fu Panda tried to do splits, and when Pablo Sandoval was to return, the team needed someone to replace either Brandon Crawford or Ryan Theriot afterwards—two players who barely scraped above .300 OBP. They could’ve done better—they could’ve tried to acquire someone with a bigger name to catch up with the haul that the Los Angeles Dodgers got from the Boston Red Sox.

But it turned out to be the best deadline trade of 2012. His teammates grew to love Marco so much they actually started calling him “Blockbuster,” and after the Giants won the NLCS, ace Matt Cain called the trade “the best thing that’s ever happened so far.” Better than his wedding day, better than the day his daughter was born. What did Marco do to deserve all the praise? 

In the two remaining months of the regular season after Marco first put on a Giants uniform he hit .362/.385/.473—he went from creating 25% fewer runs than the league in Colorado (75 wRC+) to being 37% above average in San Francisco (137 wRC+). His strikeout rate dropped from an 8.4% before the trade to 5.2% afterwards. (For comparison, the 2012 Toronto Blue Jays’ second baseman Kelly Johnson had a 27.4% strikeout rate.) 

He was on a red-hot streak entering the playoffs, but then the magic started: he somehow just stopped missing baseballs. He played all five games of the NLDS and did not strikeout once, and only recorded one K in the seven NLCS games. Fangraphs’ Jeff Sullivan looked through every single Marco Scutaro at bat during the NLCS. and found that, out of the 78 swings he took, he only missed the ball twice. In that magical seven-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals, he hit .500/.533/.607, he didn’t go 0-for in any game and managed to record six multi-hit games, collecting 14 hits in 28 at bats. 

But the magic could have easily ended in the top of the first in game 2 of the NLCS. Marco, the 5’10”/185-pound second baseman, was trying to turn a double play when he was crushed by Cardinals’ 6’4”/235-pound runner Matt Holliday’s hard slide over second base. AT&T Park was showering boos as Marco rolled around the infield dirt in pain. Watching on TV, I thought his season was over.
But as you can see in the video, after a few minutes, the diminutive Venezuelan stood right up, dusted himself off and continued playing for his team. Two batters later and it was his turn to come up to bat and what did he do? Slam a line drive single up the middle against Chris Carpenter. Later in the game, he loosened a tight 2-1 Giants lead by lining another single with the bases loaded, scoring three (with the help of an error). He continued his success against Carpenter in Game 6, hitting a two-run double in the second inning. 

Marco contributed 3 hits and took a walk in the final game of the NLCS, which was decided early on when the Giants took a 7-0 lead by the end of the 3rd inning. But of course, the players had to complete the requisite 9 innings of play, despite the skies opening up to a pouring rain by the top of the 9th. Very appropriately, the NLCS ended when Matt Holliday, the man sacked Marco game 1, popped a ball straight up to the skies where it mixed with the rain to drop into the glove of the Giants’ magical second baseman. Did he think that the moment was pure magic? Judge for yourself. 
Image courtesy of SBNation
Of course, describing Marco Scutaro’s NLCS as “magical” doesn’t mean his success was mana granted from the heavens. As Blue Jays fans may remember, Marco had a knack of creating magic: remember when he took second base on a walk when he caught the Phillies’ infielders napping? It is his natural talent, hard work, and intellect that gave him that magic. 

 Marco was awarded the NLCS MVP trophy, and later with a $20-million contract to allow Giants fans to chant “MAR-CO SCU-TA-RO! *clap clap clap clap clap*” every home game he plays in for the next 3 years. Looks like they’ll have more magic in store.

Monday 17 December 2012

Guest Post: Elimination Game

A look back at magical moments from:
Special guest author Ruhee from Doubleswitching.

"And Carlos Beltran takes a strike from Zito to start the seventh."

In my sports-fan life, one thing I've learned above all others is not to be too optimistic--or, sometimes, not to be optimistic at all. It's hard to do -- I'm guilty of getting my hopes up in every situation, realistic or otherwise, but sometimes you have to prepare yourself for the absolute worst. There are times when nothing appears to be possible and you want to be ready, if only to cushion yourself from potential heartbreak.

Game 5 of the NLCS between the Giants and the Cardinals was just such a moment. The Giants were once again on the brink of elimination, a now-familiar refrain. Down three games to one, they were trotting out a starter who had posted 2.2 innings in his last outing (Game 4 of the NLDS, allowing 2 runs on 4 hits and 4 walks). Barry Zito's first inning in that game had gone out, out, single, walk, walk, walk (run).

I trust you'll forgive me for being pessimistic.

The reaction to Bochy naming Zito as his Game 5 starter went exactly as you'd expect. Woe is us, all is lost, good luck to the Cards in the Series. Bets were placed on Zito's total innings--I took 3, which after the Division Series debacle felt generous. All I could hope for was a gentle loss, a well-fought one which would at least allow the Giants to retain some dignity. The NLCS felt like borrowed time to begin with, and I was steeling myself for the disappointing end.

The bottom of the first was relatively uneventful, a one-out single to Beltran and nothing more. The second, though, started off with a Yadier Molina single followed immediately by David Freese's double to right, and suddenly there we were on the brink of disaster. I assumed, holding my breath, that there was no way Zito would get out of two on/no out without allowing a basket full of runs. 

Strikeout. Intentional walk. Double play.

Well, that was something, wasn't it?
(I was alone, but I'm not above talking to my television when sports are involved.)

Zito made it through the third clean, too: twelve batters, four baserunners, no runs. Luck, surely?

The Giants scored four runs on Lance Lynn the next inning, knocking him right out of the game. Zito had everything he needed, and gave nothing back. Leadoff double in the fourth--stranded. Clean fifth. Clean sixth. 

And there he was, in the seventh inning, and there was Carlos Beltran, taking a strike. None of it made sense and it was wonderful.

Zito was finally pulled at 115 pitches, two down in the eighth and a man on. Six hits, one (INTENTIONAL) walk, six strikeouts, no runs, 64% strikes. The game of his life. One of mine, too. 

It was the defining game of the playoffs for me, right beside Game 5 of the NLDS with the tying run at the plate in four consecutive innings. Seven and two-thirds innings of absolute disbelief every time Zito walked back to the mound. It's always easier to be prepared for anything, but the real magic happens when you're not. 

Congratulations to the San Francisco Giants: 2012 World Series Champions. It was all downhill from there. 

Editor's note: there were a lot of people hoping for this kind of miracle, and evidence of that hope still litters the internet with their hashtag from that night:  #rallyzito

2012 Looking Back from Different Angles

As we approach the end of 2012, baseball fans, without any actual baseball to evaluate, are either looking forward to 2013, or looking back on the events of 2012.
The Mayans approved of this logo.
Funny thing is, I don't enjoy making predictions very much. I have no problem reading them, but they really aren't my cup of tea. Something about looking back and realising how frequently you were wrong, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Who needs a bad taste in the mouth? Not I! And, as a result, not you either.
Looking back, then, seemed to be the more enjoyable thing to do. Surely I couldn't have covered every magic moment in 2012 in just a few posts? Of course not. I decided to enlist the help of a few of my Internet friends with this retrospective, and a few of them agreed to give me a Magical Moment that stood out for them in 2012.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Guest Post: The Pantomime Home Run

 A look back at Magical moments in.....
Special guest author Matt from House of the Bluebird

     With each and every season of baseball comes new moments for us to cherish and remember. There's the no-hitters, the cycles, the ridiculously difficult defensive plays, and of course the walk off home runs. Those moments in baseball are exciting, they're wondrous and some might even say they are magical. However baseball is more than historically significant events, there's a whole other side to the game. 
     That other side being baseball's extensive quirkiness and general wealth of oddities. This other side produces such moments as Giancarlo Stanton's breaking of a panel on the scoreboard at Marlins Park or the Praying Mantis delay that occurred at Nationals Park earlier this year. The moments aren't always memorable nor are they necessarily historical, but they added to my enjoyment of baseball in 2012. Of all the interesting oddities that occurred during the 2012 MLB season, the one moment that particularly piqued my interest was the "The Pantomime Home Run". 
      Pantomime is defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary as "[the] conveyance of a story by bodily or facial movements especially in drama or dance". You might be wondering how exactly this ties into a game of baseball, and you probably aren't alone in that regard. The specific moment that I'm referring to is one that occurred during a game between the Cardinals and Nationals at Busch Stadium on September 29th. In this instance Michael Morse hit a ball off of Kyle Lohse that went just over the wall at Busch Stadium. The ball bounced off the Energizer sign, then bounced back on the wall before coming onto the field of play and into Carlos Beltran's possession. Beltran then threw the ball to the infield where Michael Morse was thrown out.
     The initial call by the umpires was a single, which would have resulted in an out and just one run for the Nationals. However one of the umpires disagreed with the call that was made and being that the ball was hit to a spot where it could be considered a borderline home run it was able to be reviewed through use of instant replay. Up until that point everything that had occurred was relatively procedural, but that would soon change
     After the umpires reviewed the play and made a decision, they explained the situation to Davey Johnson and then to all the players on the base paths, including Michael Morse. They then went on to instruct Morse to not only rerun the base paths, but go back into the batter's box and redo/mime his home run swing as seen in the .GIF below.
     Morse didn't complain, he didn't question the umpire, he just went to the batter's box and swung as he would at any other was wonderful. The "Phantom Grand Slam" swing was full of finesse and and Morse's strides were impeccable as he ran around the base paths while being both booed and cheered on by the Cardinals fans at Busch Stadium. An event, as simple as this, at times seems trivial, but it's another contributor to the variety of beloved oddities that are present and prevalent among the online baseball community today (See Graphs, Not). It isn't flashy, it isn't mind-blowing, but it's funny, it's quirky and it's part of what sets baseball apart from the rest of the world of sports.

Sometimes it's the simple things in life that make us smile.

 The video of the play in it's entirety is embedded below, if that does not work here's a link   that can be used instead.

Saturday 24 November 2012

Pence the Unusual

Since he came to the San Francisco Giants, in a a trade on July 31st of 2012, I gradually became aware of Hunter Pence, baseball player. The unusual way Pence moves, swings, and also, looks, came across clearly from all the Giants fans I follow on twitter. There is this facial expression:
Which, while not all that creepy, per se, becomes more so when you realise that this is just his regular, calm face. There is a kind of, shall we say, intensity there that never goes away. It gives way, instead, to his actual intense expression:
Which, is more attention grabbing than I can manage in the mirror, even on my best mornings. So, there is a certain aura about Pence which follows him around the baseball diamond. That kind of thing is destined to stir up a little bit of magic with it.

Monday 15 October 2012

Now pinch hitting for number 13....

After the end of the regular season, in all major sports, come the playoffs. In the playoffs, we are often given the impression that there is more pressure to perform. Certainly, the eyes of baseball fan everywhere focus more closely on the teams that graduated from the regular season into the exclusive playoff level. Every few days, another team is weeded out, forced to make plans for next year, and there are more baseball watching eyeballs focused on fewer and fewer teams.

Players must know this. They must see the crowds arriving earlier to their seats, filling in every last row in the stadium. More reporters hang around the clubhouse, more cameras and microphones shadow them in their daily routine. Friends and family who may have been indifferent to their occupation, suddenly want tickets. All those kids from AAA teams who were suited up in big league colours for the last month, eager and bright eyed? Those kids are gone, watching at home. Only the real big leaguers remain. They playoffs aren't any more complicated when the umpire shouts 'Play ball!' every night, but the feeling has to be different. There is something at stake every night. There is an awareness of all these little changes, turning up the pressure one more notch.

People remember what you do in October. That's the way of the baseball world. Dave Winfield waited 11 years to shake the label 'Mr. May'. Bill Buckner only exists in the casual fan's mind for one fateful October moment. Joe Carter hit 396 home runs in the regular season. You can only find one picture of him running the bases in your memory bank. Fisk waving one fair in game six, 1975. Bucky effing Dent. October remembers.

Maybe I know why he's having trouble.
This story has a great, and a goat. Both of them know what October can do to you. Alex Rodriguez has seen baseball in October 11 different years. He knows how it feels to be the great, in 2009 he hit 6 home runs in the post-season. He batted .365/.500/.808 for the month of October, and he got his World Series ring. He is 37 years old, and very well paid. This year, in October, he has not been great. He has been beyond bad. Joe Girardi has batted him third four times. His best efforts have resulted in a line of .125/.222/.125 so far. There is to be no twist in his fate. A-Rod is our goat.

Which means Raul Ibanez is our somewhat unlikely great. He's been to the post-season 5 times himself. In fact, he was in the opposite dugout in 2009 when A-Rod had his big coming out party in New York. He has no ring with the World Series logo on it. Yet.

Friday 28 September 2012

2 out, Lineout to the pitcher

With one hundred and sixty two games played by 30 teams, there's a lot of baseball to watch. After a certain date, let's say September first, there are certain teams who play just as much baseball as they did in the other months, but there isn't much of a reason to watch it. When the words 'mathematically eliminated' come up all the time after the name of your favourite team, it isn't easy to know why you are watching. The twilight of the season makes us look for justifications to keep watching the also-rans.

The first reason I often hear to compel me to watch a late season game of a poor team is that they can play 'spoiler'. 'Spoiler' resembles baseball, but with the emphasis on helping out a team that isn't even in the building by beating up on their competition for them. Which is all well and good, but I don't often enjoy it. Why? Well, often the only reason my team gets to wear the coveted 'spoiler' hat and jacket, is because their lack of success has led to them having to take off their 'contender' hat and jacket and put them in the closet for next year. 'Contender' is just so much more fashionable than 'Spoiler' brand. The other thing that strikes me is that the teams that don't play well are not likely to spoil anything with any regularity. Often they get schooled by the better teams as to why they weren't on the list of better teams earlier in the year. Bad teams do not improve because the leaves change colour.

Monday 24 September 2012

Totally Astrotious

It has been a rough four years for the Houston baseball fan. Four losing years, and then the announcement that the team would be changing leagues, which will remove all of the team's traditional rivals from its schedule. That can't help to sell tickets, can it?

I was hanging around at NotGraphs the other day and the Astros were the subject of a recent post.  If you are a baseball fan, and haven't hung out at NotGraphs, you are definitely missing out. If you are in the mood for a little baseball related bric-a-brac, it is a one stop shop. It's also a free shop, where you can take home the memory of a .gif or unedited tweet, or even enjoy a little Dick Allen in great works of literature, for no initiation or membership fees.

The Astro's post in question was this one. And someone in the comments thought it might be helpful, perhaps even enlightening, to find all the other instances of the Astro's that were .gif-able, and to put them in one spot. I don't thing this was suggested with the Houston Astros fanbase in mind, because I would have to believe that putting all of the Astro's moments together like this, is a form of torture any real fan. Especially one who is watching and hoping that they suddenly turn it around. If you are one of those fans, this is your chance to avoid the train wreck. The rest of you can join me after the jump.

Friday 31 August 2012

A Living Institution

Vin Scully is not a legendary base ball broadcaster, he is the legend of baseball broadcasting itself. If you want to know what it sounded like to hear the Don Larsen perfect game call in the 1956 World Series, one of the voices that broadcasted that game was Vin Scully's. If you want to hear one of the smoothest, most information packed modern broadcasts, listen to a Dodger home game, called by Vin Scully and only Vin Scully.

Now, I could probably point out that Vin has been baseball's great constant voice, and that he has been a Dodger employee longer than they have been the Los Angeles Dodgers. That, all by itself, is magical. Like Vin Scully, and his legacy, there's still more magic to come. Vin Scully remains happily unretired.

Vin is hardly phoning it in, either. In this season alone, he came up with a more descriptive term for the outfield shift, he learned about twitter, still thinks fast enough on his feet to lip read and edit a manager's profanity on the fly. He took a picture with Giancarlo Stanton. The young Mr. Stanton noted that meeting Vin was on his 'bucket list'. Are you an item on someone's bucket list? I didn't think so.

The baseball gods, (who control all that is uncertain in the game I love), can be fickle, but one would assume that they are pleased with having Mr. Scully as their standard bearer. Since he is not a player, the baseball gods cannot offer up a spectacular catch, or a walkoff win to Mr. Scully. They have given him the chance to call some of the greatest moments in the game. Perhaps not knowing what to get Vin this year, the baseball gods got him a bobblehead.

Now, that's really nice, but these aren't the baseball grandmas or baseball cousins working the magic here. Anybody can get a bobblehead made, but only the baseball gods can work the magic as you are coming down on the field to get the bobblehead.

From twitter:

And from the Dodgers Instagram account.

Yes, everything went exactly as well as you would expect for Vin Scully in Dodger Stadium. Plus a rainbow.

Saturday 18 August 2012

Top of the 7th: Flyout, LF (Deep Left)

A great catch is like watching girls go by; the last one you see is always the prettiest. - Bob Gibson

I'm going to go back in time a little bit here, but only about a week, to August 12th, 2012. (This blog is a labour of love, and other labours have not allowed me the time to come to this earlier.) It was in the 7th inning, and the Toronto Blue Jays held a comfortable 6 run lead over the visiting New York Yankees. Casey McGehee was the second batter in the inning, Curtis Granderson having reached base on an infield single.

McGehee launched a 2-0 pitch from Brad Lincoln over the head of Rajai Davis in left field.

To really understand what happened next, we have to add a little bit of context to Rajai Davis and his playing style. Two days earlier, Davis lost a ball in the lights at his home park, which is not unheard of, but certainly unusual. He often takes a wrong first step on fly balls, but uses his blazing running speed to overcome most of his mistakes. His throwing arm is unremarkable, which is why he is in left field, as Colby Rasmus represents a superior option in centre. Davis often appears just a bit indecisive in the outfield. He's certainly a step up from Eric Thames, and worlds apart from Adam Lind, but how he will play the bounce on a ball over his head is always a lingering question.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

A Long Season

It is a long season.

You have probably heard that more times than you can count, if you are a baseball fan. It is, mathematically, the longest season of any professional sport. 162 games in 6 months, each lasting 3-4 hours, give or take an hour here and there. That's the most time spent on the field of any sport. So, we hear, quite often, about the long season.

The length of the season, just by adding up days, doesn't really approach the problem of the Long Season, though. Those 162 games are played six or seven days in a row, on a regular basis. The limit on the number of consecutive games played? Let me give you the official wording:
(12) No Club shall be scheduled, or rescheduled if practicable, to
play more than 20 consecutive dates without an open day. A rainedout
game may be rescheduled to an open date in the same series, or
to an open date at the end of the same series, if (a) the open date is
a road off-day for the visiting Club, and (b) the rescheduling does
not result in the home team playing more than 24 consecutive dates
without an open day.
Yes, twenty day in a row are possible in the regular conduct of business in the MLB. Have you ever worked twenty days in a row at your job? Even if your job isn't the most demanding in the world, how would you think of your job at the end of a twenty day stretch. I would call it a grind. I might include a few curse words before the word 'grind', but 'grind' would be my general feeling.

Baseball is a long grind.

Thursday 26 July 2012

On The Flip Side

In baseball, sometimes the uniform becomes part of the player. It isn't something that announces itself. Often, it is the sort of thing that comes to light at the end of a long career. The first one that springs to mind is Babe Ruth.

In your mind, there he is, in pinstripes, with the overlapping NY on his chest. I can't imagine any more lasting image of the Babe. It's like he was a Yankee through and through. Born at home plate in New York. After all, Yankee Stadium was The House That Ruth Built. Of course, that picture is not really reflective of Ruth's career at all.

Six years in Boston at the beginning of his career, a dominant lefthander on the mound. Funny, but we rarely picture him that way. Maybe it makes sense, because Ruth rewrote the rules of hitting in those pinstripes. Odd, though, that the Red Sox spent almost a century breaking a 'curse' of a man rarely pictured in their uniform.

This is from, which you, being a baseball fan, should have visited many times already.
The players of the past, through the late 1960's, became one with their uniforms by virtue of the way baseball conducted its business. The reserve clause dictated that players could be retained indefinitely by one team, and cheaply too! Great players were destined for long careers in one colour.
Musial in Cardinal Red, Koufax in Dodger Blue.  It is natural to us now, but maybe it would have been different in an era where changing teams came naturally when the highest bidder came calling. When baseball moved through the 1970, 80s and 90s, into collective bargaining and free agency, the thought of a player in one uniform and only one uniform became much, much rarer. Many players now seem to change teams like it's a contest to collect the most different shirts. Matt Stairs, Eric Hinske, Jim Thome, Octavio Dotel, I have no lasting impression of any logo or number on their backs.

Sunday 15 July 2012

1-3-6-2 Double Play, and Go Ahead Run- SB, E1

The New York Yankees are...

If I start a sentence with those words, and you are a baseball fan, there is some automatic filler you will end it with. It depends what kind of fan you are. If you are a Yankee fan, it likely ends with "'s greatest team.", or something else overly self congratulatory. Even if you are not a Yankee fan, there is still, I am sure, a way you end that sentence, almost automatically. Why? Because the Yankees are an indelible part of baseball history. You can't be a baseball fan and not have thought about the Yankees, a lot. You have surely imagined your team beating them, because, except for a couple of seemingly brief periods in their history, they have always been the team to beat. If you have ever imagined your team winning it all, at some point, the New York Yankees were the team they had to go through to get there.

I am not a Yankee fan, not by a long shot, but I, too, have an automatic ending to that sentence. When I hear "The New York Yankees are...." my brain finishes "too good at baseball." That's all, if they were just like other teams, we could all laugh off the 200 million dollar payroll and the pinstripes. Sadly, we can't laugh at them, not in the long run, because they win.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Bottom of the 1st, June 28th 2012.

Stupid tricks, as a rule, do not work. That's what makes them stupid. In grade three, when the schoolyard clown pointed to your shirt, got you to look down, and flicked your nose on the way up, that was a stupid trick at work. You, (and I to be honest), tried to spot that trick as quickly as possible. It lacks sophistication, and when frequently attempted, it is easily thwarted.

There are lots of places in baseball to try a stupid trick. The middle infielders, as they make plays around the bag, make motions and noises to indicate they are going to be part of the play, when, in fact, the ball is traveling elsewhere. The catcher will pump-fake to second with runners on first and third, trying to trick the runner on third into a mistake. The pitcher has an entire section of the rulebook defining the limits of his trickery. If he gets too tricky, he is the only player with penalties outlined for his tricking transgressions. The balk rules are more nebulous than the trick plays they prevent.

But, like a dime-store magic trick, when applied properly, stupid tricks can pay off.

Monday 2 July 2012

June 18th and June 29th, 2012

Baseball loves its records. We, the fans, are always exposed to a new record from Elias Sports Bureau (all those records in one desk!), or Stats Inc., or the local TV stats guy with google and a bunch of spare time on his hands. Records, were, at one time, pure things. For example, most home runs hit in one season. Ever. Period. When Babe Ruth hit 60 homers, that was a simple, pure record.

Not a lot of games had been played, so it was relatively easy to do something for the first time ever. Most hits in a season, most errors. First pitcher to throw 2 no-hitters, first hitter to get 6 hits in a game. As time has gone on, a whole lot of games have been played. It has become harder to set the definitive record. For example, Jose Bautista was having a very good month in June. He set a record for home runs in a month. He hit fourteen. Fourteen is a lot of home runs in one month. It is more home runs than any Blue Jay has ever hit in a month, and that makes it a record. It is not, however, the most home runs hit in the American League in one month. That record would be fifteen, held jointly by Babe Ruth, Bob Johnson and Roger Maris. It is also nowhere near the Major League record for homers in a month. Sammy Sosa had the discourtesy to hit twenty home runs in June of 1998, which means you will hear a lot about Ruth, Johnson, and Maris, and then a whole lot about Sosa, before you ever hear about anybody setting the record for homers in the month of June. In a way, I feel bad for Bautista, but it should be hard to have the best home run hitting month in history, and it is.

Which is why it's totally worth talking about this guy and what he did in the past week an a half.
Lying down on the job? Not exactly.
For those of you not familiar with the face, that's Aaron Hill, current Arizona Diamondbacks (and former Blue Jays) second baseman. He made himself a piece of baseball lore on June 29th 2012. He had a four hit game, and did something that is very unusual for a hitter. By collecting a single, double, triple, and home run, he did what is called 'hitting for the cycle'.

It isn't easy to hit for the cycle. It certainly doesn't represent the best night a batter can have, as I'm sure all of the players who have hit four home runs in one night will tell you. The funny thing about the cycle is that nobody is trying to do it. A hitter who has a homer and a triple in his first 2 at-bats can't stop at second base if he hits another homer. Hitters aren't really able to stretch a hard single into a double, even if they have the other three elements of the cycle already covered. So, the cycle is a curiosity, but stll requires the tools to hit the ball hard, and have good speed on the bases. Even the best hitters are at the mercy of Lady Luck when it comes to the cycle. Still, it is significant for its rarity.

As an example of the rarity of the cycle, I present the following: my favourite franchise is the Toronto Blue Jays. They have a 35 year history. They have played 5,267 games. Blue Jay players have hit for the cycle twice. That's once very 2633.5 games. Quite the wait if you wanted to see both. In all of MLB, the fraternity of cycle hitters has 246 members. Which, considering the number of plate appearances in baseball history, is a select group indeed.

Aaron Hill has hit for the cycle twice in his career, which represents some very intense negotiations with Lady Luck. Several players have hit for the cycle multiple times. This smaller brotherhood contains only 19 names, including Mr. Hill. He stands alone in one regard, however. He took only an 11 day pause between his two hit-for-the-cycle games. Since modern baseball began in 1901, with the American and National Leagues playing parrellel seasons, nobody has ever put their first and second cycle so close together.

When he retires, Hill can tell his kids that, yes, he does hold an all-time baseball record. He is the player who hit for the cycle twice, and took the shortest ever break between the two times he did it.

I think, in a watered down game, where we get told a team hasn't hit back to back homers "since 2010" ,(wow, 2 years, that's soooo rare), it's good to have a little of the wonder put back into things by a player doing something that has never been done before.

Baseball, you never know what you might see next.

Sunday 17 June 2012

Top of the 4th, Lineout SS

The play that led to this post is pretty great. With a man on first base, Brett Cecil delivers a pitch that gets ripped to the right of Yunel Escobar, and he makes a nifty little play to snag it on the fly.

You can hop to the video of the play to see him in action.

Thursday 14 June 2012

27 Outs

Every baseball game is the same.

Each team seeks to record 27 outs against its opponent. It does this in 3 out bursts, seeking to prevent the other team from recording those outs in order. 

Every baseball game is different.

Every game brings players who are different from who they were the day before. Their batting averages have ticked up, or down. Sometimes they are hurt, or healed a little more. Each day hitters practice in a cage, tweaking and refining swings. Fielders take grounders and fly balls, teammates suggest methods and movements to improve. The starting pitcher's identity is, by definition, rotating around every day. Sometimes the fastball has extra pop. Sometimes a curve ball keeps hanging up. Legs tilt, knees bend, arms tire.

The same batter will find himself higher and lower in the lineup, one night seeing the bases full over and over again. On other nights, he will stand out on the bases, wondering why his teammates can't move him beyond first. Pitches bounce, runners scamper on wild pitches, balls kick into the stands, get snatched back from over the fence, deflected into the seats off of gloves (and heads), and spin fair and foul at the last millisecond.

Sometimes, if you are very lucky, you get to go to a game where almost nothing happens. When a pitcher allows no hits, and records 27 outs, he can put a 'no-hitter' on his calling card. When he allows no baserunners, and the same 27 out he can write the much more unusual 'perfect game'. It is the top of the mountain for a pitchign performance.

Every perfect game is the same.

One pitcher records 27 outs in perfect order. His solution to the challenge of 27 outs is to allow nothing to happen, except 27 outs. There is, in many ways of looking at it, only one way to pitch a perfect game.

Every perfect game is different.

Baseball is a game of stories. Because there is no clock, nothing pressing the game forward, there is time for a story between every action on the field. There does not have to be a story between every pitch, that would just be silly, but there is time for one. Every wince of a hitter who has fouled a ball off his own foot can be captured and mulled over. The look on a fielder's face when he has made an error, and is waiting for the next ball to be hit- to see if he will get a chance to redeem himself- can be read and mulled over in the moments between those pitches. Every time the ball is put into play, we, as fans, wait to see what it will add to the story.

Last night, baseball wrote a story called "Matt Cain's Perfect Game". Cain is lucky enough to pitch for the San Francisco Giants. I say lucky, not only because they were the underdog winners of the 2010 World Series, a team which Cain also belonged too, but for other reasons as well. The Giants have a wonderful stable of storytellers, many of them who put their work on the Internet. When good writers are able to write about a magic moment in the life of someone they love, about something they love, only good things can happen.

So, allow me to guide you to a few sources for the full story of Matt Cain, and his perfect game.

First the 2 highlights from, to get you into the mood. First, Blanco's game saving catch in the 7th and the full game recap.

Here are all 27 outs:

Now, on to the stories:

Grant Brisbee wrote his reaction for the always high quality McCovey Chronicles.And he gives you 50 great things about the game, that's 50 stories in one, and there is room for them all.

Wendy Thurm seizes the keyboard at Fangraphs for this one.

Somebody noticed Ted Barrett was behind the plate, and thought that seemed familiar.

And last, the incomparable Joe Posnanski, with thoughts on the game, and the nature of the perfect game itself.

You can have a piece of this game, even if you weren't there. You, and I, for that matter, can share it now, through they eyes of others who experienced it in different ways. We, and our thought on Cain's moment of perfection, they become part of our own stories.

That is the magic. The ability to share a moment through a game, across time and space. I offer my congratulations to Mr. Matt Cain, and hope he enjoyed his magic moment as much as the rest of us did.

Monday 28 May 2012

Two things I would have bet were impossible.

The super slow motion camera is a wonderful thing. I can remember nature shows that my father made me watch as a young child. There would be the hummingbird, slowly flapping its wings, suspended over a flower. Sometimes it would be an insect feeding, or a plant shooting pollen, but always in perfect, crisp detailed motion.

It turns out that it comes in just as handy for baseball games, if the camera is pointed in the right place. It can reveal that what I thought was impossible, has already happened.

Everything I have read about hitting, power is generated by a complex relationship of force and leverage. The result of carefully timed hip and shoulder turns, arm extensions and wrist tension is what makes hitting a ball out of the yard possible. If you had bet me that you could hit a home run by holding the knob of the bat with your thumb and forefinger slipping off of it, I would have bet against you in a second.

I will now send you to a GIF over at Getting Blanked. I don't want to steal that one, so go take a look and I'll be here when you get back.

Poor Jamie Moyer. He's been on the right side, and the wrong side of the magic forces lately.

That clip reminded me of somthing that I saw last year. A similar camera angle. From SBNation, this is Troy Tulowitzki getting the bat on the ball in an incredibly unusual way.

Yes, I would have bet that making contact a second time on the same stroke was impossible. I would have wagered quite a bit of money that you couldn't swing slow enough to hit it so softly that you were then swinging hard enough to catch up to the ball you just hit. Troy Twoquickhitzki. For reals.

I would have lost both bets, because I also sometimes forget that baseball is magic.

Friday 25 May 2012

Bases Loaded, Bottom 4, 2 out.

Miami, Florida. May 21, 2012. An evening at Marlins ballpark, the home team hosting the Colorado Rockies.

Before I get to the magic moment, some background is required. The Miami Marlins are, in many ways, a brand new team. That might be a little generous. They are a new team in much the same way as the coffee I buy has been placed in a different shaped jar and labelled (boldly) Brand New Look! The coffee tastes about the same, but they surely got some attention by changing the label and the jar. The Marlins have undergone changes in their name, from 'Florida' to 'Miami', to their new uniform and logo, and their shiny new stadium. They are starved for attention, it would seem.

The most notable feature has been the home run sculpture. It, since the offseason construction project neared completion, has been the most talked about part of the 'new' Miami Marlins. It has no name, no official title. It simply announces it's own presence whenever a Marlin hits a home run. Sometimes I wonder if it goes off in an empty stadium when a Marlins player homers on the road. Maybe it knows, somehow, when it is needed.

With no official name, I have taken to calling it The Stanton Machine. That's a tribute to this guy, who also rebranded himself into the new stadium. Giancarlo (nee Mike) Stanton is, regardless of first name, the man most likely to set off the display in center field. After all, Giancarlo Stanton hits baseballs like this:

They tell me that that's only 461 feet.

Mr. Stanton, it would seem, was unmoved by the efforts to build a 75 foot tall temple of animated silliness as a tribute to his abilities. Perhaps he was unimpressed that any of his teammates could, at any time, set off the home run display with their own home run. Giancarlo is not a follower, Giancarlo is a leader.

In the bottom of the 4th, Jamie Moyer, the wily veteran who I talked about in a previous post, faced the 21 year old Giancarlo for the 3rd time in the game. And Giancarlo pulled a rabbit out of his hat. Jeff Sullivan does a wonderful job of breaking it down.

Not only did Mr. Stanton attempt to break the spirit of the ageless Mr. Moyer, but he affirmed his home run mojo as being greater than any other hitter to drive a ball over the fence at Marlins Stadium. When Giancarlo homers, the display now includes a whole section of the scoreboard going dark to honour him. Observe.

(via twitter)

Yes, folks, Giancarlo Stanton out-crazied the craziest ballpark in baseball. And he did it with the power of nothing more magical than an ordinary baseball. I fully expect that, with each home run he hits, more and more lights will go out in Marlins Stadium, until a single shaft shines down upon home plate, and one spotlight follows the flight of every Stanton homer.

You gotta dream sometimes, don't you?

Friday 18 May 2012

First pitch of the 8th

On April 18th, 2012, Yan Gomes made his major league debut for the Toronto Blue Jays, of the American league. He played third base, and recorded two hits. As Darren Oliver entered the game to start the top of the 8th, he threw his first pitch of the game. Courtesy of The Blue Jay Hunter, you can see what happened below.

Nice play. Great reaction time! I've led you a little astray, though, because that's not Yan Gomes, 24 year old rookie. That's the very adept glove handling skill of Omar Vizquel.

Vizquel, for the uninitiated, is a very, very, veteran defensive replacement. He is 45 years old.

That's the magic of baseball for you. In a game with no clock, every so often, a player comes along and holds off father time in surprising ways. Vizquel came into the game to replace a 24 year old rookie, because he's believed to be the better glove man. And he showed it on the very first pitch thrown while he was in the game.This season Vizquel is not the only man testing his ability to turn back the clock.

Our even more unlikely candidate is below.

The hit pictured above is from Jamie Moyer. Moyer is just returning from a year off to have Tommy John surgery. Which means he is a pitcher. A pitcher who recently celebrated his 49th birthday. He is now the oldest player in MLB history to get a hit, and also the oldest to drive in a run. Moyer is the oldest player in MLB history to do anything that he does. He is the punchline to every 'this guy is older than something really old' joke made in the last 6 months.

Every day, though, Jamie Moyer is the one laughing. He gets up in the morning and can put on the uniform of a real big league team. He makes a real contribution to the Colorado Rockies. He's almost 50 years old, and he's still living the life of a baseball player, a life many former players who washed out in their 30s would still trade him for. Jamie Moyer is some kind of wizard.

If there is one player who best captured the impossible spirit of playing beyond any expectation, though, it is not Jamie Moyer, or Omar Vizquel, or Jesse Orosco, or Julio Franco. It is a man most associated with one number and one letter. The number is 5714. The letter, is K.

Nolan Ryan.

Nolan Ryan was a Time Lord. He debut in 1966. He led the league in strikeouts from 1987 to 1990. Those were his age 40 through 44 seasons. He continued to throw in the mid 90s, and even no-hit my beloved Toronto Blue Jays in 1991. Again, when he was 45. He struck out 5714 batters in his career. Is that good? Well, here's the all time list.

As a comparision, Moyer hasn't got a pitch that he can throw 80mph. Omar Vizquel had to come to camp and compete for a job this year. Ryan was heaving it up there like a champion, until his elbow ligament popped in his last start. Like at the end of every series of Doctor Who, when they finally change actors, time had defeated Nolan Ryan, but he had held it back in an unbelievable way.

Baseball is played on a field that is, in theory, infinite in dimensions. Take the fences away, and the outfield rolls on forever. The game has no limits, tie games are played on and on, without concern for the clock. Sometimes that timeless magic gets into a player's blood, and he looks like he could go on forever.

Sunday 13 May 2012

Flyout 5-7

The title of this post hardly makes any sense to me. I'm pretty sure that's how it would show in the box score, though. Not that it gets written in the box score very often. I'd kind of be curious, really, to know how many times a flyout has been recorded that way in Major League Baseball history.

Third baseman assists left fielder in catching a fly ball.

Now, if you didn't see it happen on May 12, 2012, just let that sink in. Try to picture the third baseman touching, but not catching a fly ball. Now, you have to get that fly ball into the left fielder's glove without it touching the ground. Can you picture that?

Wednesday 2 May 2012

Bottom of the 9th, 7-7, nobody out

That title, up there, it's almost always the game situation that provides us with a magic moment. I often have to look up the game summary or box score to figure out exactly what the title will be. Today, I did not. Brett Lawrie makes remembering the magic easy to do.

I often hold off on showing you the play, or the link to build a little tension, but I'm just going to give it to you right off the top, because that's what Brett Lawrie did. With nobody out, and the count full, Brett Lawrie swung the bat, and won the game. would like you to Click here so you can watch it happen in full motion video and sound.

Boom goes the dynamite, indeed. Everybody jump around! Did he just do that? Yes! Now we all go home!

For those of you not students of the game, I must tell you something important here. There are no clutch hitters. No major league baseball hitter has shown any real ability to get better at hitting when his team is behind, or he is the tying or winning run. Great hitters are great all the time. Bad hitters are bad all the time. With random variations thrown in. There are no clutch hitters, but there are clutch hits.

The walkoff homer in the bottom of the ninth, that's the kind of clutch hit that narratives are written about. Ask Joe Carter. Brett Lawrie already knows quite a lot about clutch hits. His 71st big league hit was a walkoff home run. You have to be in the right place at the right time to get a walkoff hit. It must be the 9th inning or later. Your team must be tied or behind. There must be enough runners on for your team to take the lead, given certain outcomes of your at bat.

Lastly, you must do the right thing.

Brett Lawrie did exactly the right thing on May 1st,2012. If you are Lawrie fan, you know he's tried this move out before. It was September 5th, 2011, and in the bottom of the 11th inning, in a 1-1 count, Lawrie hit a solo home run to walk off the Boston Red Sox. It looked, in part, like this. says this is old enough that I can show it to you right here. Isn't that convenient?

A quick trip to my calculator shows me that 2.8% of all the hits Lawrie has made in the major leagues have been walkoff home runs. That's crazy. And makes him seem magical. Right place, right time, right thing. 2.8% of the time.

If you don't agree with me, I'd like to direct your attention to another MLB player with exceptional talent. He has been around a little longer that Brett, and has had time to amass 2,406 hits against major league pitchers. He's got quite the reputation for being able to get hits whenever he needs them. He's led the league 7 times in the hits category. His name is Ichiro Suzuki. Now here's the funny part, this link is to an article about Ichiro's first walkoff hit (hit, not homer, mind you). In the text of the article, we are told that it's the 1953rd hit of Ichiro's career. So, there's one walkoff for him, 2 for Brett.

It turns out, Ichiro thought that getting a walkoff hit was really cool. The next night, he was in the right place at the right time, and for the second night in a row, he did the right thing. He homered off Mariano Rivera and won the game, bringing his career walkoff hit percentage to 0.001%. So, Brett and Ichiro Suzuki now are tied in game winning hits. However, Lawrie has a 2-1 lead in walkoff home runs.

I don't know what will happen tomorrow, but I know what happened to end the game on May 2, 2012, and it was magical to me.

Sunday 29 April 2012

6th inning, Foul ball

All kinds of people go to baseball games. Its unavoidable that some people will place too high a value on a souvenir. Lots of digital ink gets spilled over what people do wrong in this world. I would like to draw attention to how easy it can be to overlook when something is done just right.

On April 28th, in the 6th inning at the Rogers Centre, the Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners were duelling it out. A foul ball was pulled into the lower level seats by Edwin Encarnacion. It was picked up by a young fan, maybe nine or ten years old. Not unusual to see a foul ball caught by a glove toting young fan.

Then the boy did something that caught the attention of one of the camera operators. He ran down the aisle to an even younger fan, and gave him the ball. Perhaps he read one of the many articles on foul ball etiquette published after the couple in the link above seemed to miss the boat. Whatever his reasons, his actions speak for themselves, from my twitter feed:

Sure, it was his second foul ball, but Mike Wilner (@wilnerness590) caught a ball in the same game, and revealed that it was his first catch in over 2000 games that he has attended.  Never sure when you are going to get another one, so giving away the ball does mean something.

Seems that someone else at the stadium noticed the gesture as well. Again, from twitter:

I think it's a great story, too. One last add-on, to this little tale: When the boy and his older companion left early, (bedtime, I guess) the section he was sitting in gave him a round of applause. And he tipped his cap to the crowd.

Now, really, it doesn't get much better than that. He has a story that he can tell the rest of his life. I have a story to post on my blog. The littlest kid in this tale has a baseball. Everybody in his section gets to cheer for the good guy. I'm not the type to suggest that our foul ball donater will grow up to be a better man because of this incident. He seems like he might have a few things figured out about right and wrong already, but, you know, small sample size, and all that. What I would suggest is that, when you are at a game, and have a chance to share a moment with the fans around you, remember, all kinds of people go to baseball games. Once in a while, one of them might make a little magic happen in the stands.

Tuesday 24 April 2012

SF Giants: Illustrated Defense

I must confess, I find it difficult to come up with something that I feel is original enough to post here. I hop around the Internet, visit my favourite sites, and get directed this way and that by Twitter accounts I admire. Everything is covered. So I try to take things and show them in a slightly different way, and I certainly hope you find that entertaining. Maybe you don't spend half the night on the net like I do, and this is all new to you. That would be cool, too.

A couple of days ago, Getting Blanked, featured this post on Aubrey Huff's first career appearance at second base. It includes the following GIF. This is could be and instructional video on how not to turn the 6-4-3 double play.

I couldn't stop laughing the first time I saw this. Burriss knows exactly what to do, setting his body to make the throw to his left. The cameraman knows exactly what to do, panning over to second base. The umpire knows what to do, moving into position to make the out call. The runner knows what to do, sliding into second base, ready to 'take out' the second baseman with a hard slide.

Aubrey Huff does not know what to do. As the camera quickly pans over to the play at first, he appears to be strolling towards second base. I'm not sure why. I don't blame Huff, as Bochy was the one who sent him out there, but, WOW, does it look bad.

The Giants are a team worth watching, though, and by the time April 23rd came around, the middle infielders had completed the script for their new instructional video. I think the title is "How To Turn and Infield Hit Into Two Outs" or "Saving Pitcher Lincecum", whichever you prefer.

It appears that nobody has found the time to GIF this up, so here's a link to the video highlight.

Nifty little transfer, isn't it? First, Crawford says "I know the glove is for catching things, but I'm going to throw with it too." and Burriss responds with "Who needs the glove, I will use my hand for catching AND throwing, as is more effective at this time."

Pretty simple, really. I'm sure that's just the way they set it up when they take grounders every day.

This has been your How To/ How Not To entry for the day.

Saturday 21 April 2012

2 on, Nobody out. Line Drive

I could have called the blog 'Man, I Love Baseball', but that seemed to obvious and/or generic. Of course I love it. Hundreds of hours of my life spent thinking about it, voluntarily, make that apparent. There are times, though where I LOVE baseball. I watched Doc no-hit the Reds in a playoff game. Loved every minute of it. I had never sat down to watch a game before, and had it become a no-hitter. Nobody knew that would happen, and I watched it unfold with a mix of nervousness and excitement. That was cool.

There are a lot of things that you see very rarely in baseball. Fans hope that they see a player have a three or four home run game, or a no-hitter, or an outfielder starting a double play. An inside the park home run is always memorable. This post, is about a play that is one worth waiting for, the triple play.

Baseball has its most exciting moments when fortune smiles on one team or other. There are a few seconds of tension created after the pitcher releases the ball, before it is touched by a fielder, where nobody is sure what the result will be. When a fly ball heads deep into the corner with two outs and runners on, the fielder gives chase. That moment, where all eyes are waiting for a huge swing in the chances of winning the game, that encapsulates the reason baseball is unique and worth watching. Either runners score, fulfilling their purpose, or they disappear, representing only the opportunity unrealised.

The ultimate reversal of fortune is the triple play. The circumstances that bring one about require specific kinds of failures on the part of the defending team. There must be two or more runners on base. There must be none out. Thousands of innings go by without either of those first two criteria being fulfilled. The runners must be aggressive, with there first move being to advance to the next base. A pop-up or fly ball will not work. The ball must be hit sharply, again, the pitcher must fail again. Everything seems to be going wrong for the defence at this point. It really is. The run expectancy for runners on first and second, nobody out, is around 1.5 runs. Teams score all the time with this setup. About half the time they go on to score two!

And then, once in a very long while, chance says no, throw out your expectations. Magic happens. The sharply hit ball finds a fielder's glove, he's close to a base, and his instincts take over, telling him to get as many outs as he possibly can. Which is just what happened to Adam Lind last night.
Shout out to Blue Jay Hunter for the GIF action.
Simple enough, catch the ball, quickly to first, fire to second. Walk off the field. Suddenly everything has changed. Adam was interviewed by Jerry Howarth, and kept emphasising "It happened so fast, and we were back in the dugout." Yes, because if you had time to think about it, you wouldn't have had time to do it.

Ricky Romero thought it was significant enough to tweet about after the game.

When a team turns three, the Internet has a ripple sent through it, every website that follows baseball has the highlights, and one team is famous for fifteen minutes. Its a special moment, and one that stands apart from the results of the game.

It feels special to be able to say, yes, I saw that happen. I shared that with all the other fans who were hoping for something magical. I hope that you feel the same way too, when you watch your team. I hope that the magic moments are many and varied, and that they don't take 32 years to come around again.

As I write this, the Blue Jays are still diving and grabbing baseballs like men possessed, so I'm going to lean back and hope for more magic. When I see something special, I'll put it up here again.

Thursday 19 April 2012

Brett Lawire, Safety Tips

Brett Lawrie.

He's kind of been a full sentence, a complete statement, since he arrived in the big leagues. He is an in-your-face, give 100% all the time player. He makes other players more quotable. He appears to not care much what anyone else on the field thinks about him. Twitter users who follow the Blue Jays have a hashtag- #jerkball, which refers to skills with an attitude to match. It fits Lawrie's style of play perfectly. I think people identify with him, because he doesn't seem to be at work when he's on the field, he's still a big, powerful, hyper, kid out playing in the yard. It's easy to trade places with Brett Lawrie. Imagine hitting a grand slam home run, in front of twenty thousand people, a homer that brought your team from behind to up by three runs. Wouldn't you love to run back to the rest of your team and do this?

Now you and I, we can watch Brett from a safe distance, and marvel. We don't have to be the guy to talks to him after he tries to steal home, off a right handed pitcher, no less, and fails. The long term happiness of Lawrie and his less intense teammates depends on them finding ways to get along in close quarters.

This team is led, we are told, by Jose Bautista, a man whose bat is larger than life. So how does 'the man' deal with 'the kid'. He plays it safe, that's how. After becoming familiar with the aftermath of a Lawrie home run, Jose took precautions as below:

As with airplane seats, in the event of a Lawrie Home Run landing, dugout pads can be used as an emergency safety device.

There is a genuine magic moment here, one which makes me feel closer to my favourite team.When the long grind of the season has the players looking grim, drop back in and remember this little moment of fun.

Shout out to for the latter images.