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.