Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Game...Of....The Week! [Air Horn Sound]

Apologies to Sportscenter on the title, there. But I've got a new gig over at Baseball Prospectus, which yesterday had me watching the Yanks and Tigers battle it out in Motown. I'm referring to Jonah Keri's brainchild, the Prospectus Game of the Week. The idea is, every week I'm going to take on one game, reporting and commenting on game of baseball within the context of that one ballgame. I know that's a lame description of something that I hope is really cool, so maybe giving you a taste is the answer.

To set up, I picked yesterday's game because the Tigers have come forward as one of the powerhouses of this young season, because the pitching matchup between Randy Johnson and Jeremy Bonderman was likely to produce a compelling story (for good or for ill) and because I had a weekday off and wanted to celebrate by writing about baseball. To my shock and surprise, Randy Johnson had a zero in the hit column going into the sixth inning. I thought this was a wonderful omen for my new venture, so we pick up the action in the sixth:

With two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning, Johnson loses control of the fastball and walks Thames. This brings up Ivan Rodriguez, a fine person to face when you’re experiencing control problems. While Rodriguez is nowhere near as ball-four-phobic as he was last season (with nine walks so far, Pudge is only two away from matching his 2005 walk total) he still loves to hack. Johnson gets ahead 0-2 as Rodriguez swings at balls high and out of the strike zone to start the at bat. After taking a ball, Rodriguez fouls off ball four, high and inside. Rodriguez takes again to bring the count to 2-2, then swings at ball six, taking a low and away pitch to right field, for a single. Thames forgets the number of outs, and fails to advance to third on the play. This mental mistake is rendered moot when Magglio Ordonez strikes out to end the inning.

The Yankees go quietly in the top of the seventh. After the seventh inning stretch, and singing of “God Bless America,” Johnson is just finishing his warmup pitches at 2:59, Eastern, just in time for the game to be interrupted by the Congressionally-mandated National Moment of Remembrance, scheduled for 3:00 PM on each Memorial Day.

Now, no one should begrudge the men and women who have given their lives in service of the United States a minute of silence and reflection in gratitude for their sacrifice. But suddenly I’m relieved that someone broke up the no-hitter an inning earlier. If the no-hitter were still going, I would probably be going nuts about Johnson having warmed up, only to have to sit a few minutes while we listen to a song written by the guy who wrote Annie. While we’re at it, who should be considered responsible for having Johnson warm up, then sit for three minutes before throwing his first pitch of the inning, Joe Torre, or the umpires?

I thought that moment--momentarily reflecting on my love of my country and those who serve it, then snapping to my senses and hoping this patriotic display didn't disrupt the Big Unit's rhythm--says just about all there is to say about being a baseball fan. Please check out the article here. (Yes, it's a subscription article on the Prospectus website, but c'mon..you really should be subscribing to BP by now. It's cheap, it's fun, and all the cool kids are doing it. Well, some of the cool kids, I hear.)

A couple of notes on the game, not in my article. Despite six shutout innings of two-hit ball, I'm not convinced that this is a corner that Randy has turned, yet. Three walks and four strikeouts in six innings is not impressive, and there were a few times that the Tigers made very solid contact with the ball, only to be thwarted by Gary Sheffield or Alex Rodriguez.

Also, this Tigers team matches up badly with lefthanders, and as an added bonus, they have the league's lowest walk rate against lefty pitchers. Sounds like a good recipe for a southpaw with control problems. I say give it a few more starts before we declare that the Unit is "back."

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