Darvish delivered an amazing, gutsy, you-have-to-see-it-to-believe-it performance as the Rangers roll on
Okay, it wasn’t the matchup we hoped for. We wanted Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish to go toe to toe for 11 innings, both throwing 99 mph, each matching the other inning by inning. We wanted one of those games we’d be talking about whenever great pitching matchups are discussed. That we didn’t get.
Verlander didn’t make it out of the third inning as the Rangers turned a 3-1 deficit into an 8-3 lead. Darvish had given up three runs in the top of the inning, so he wasn’t at the top of his game either. After the third inning, it looked like it was going to be a bullpen game for both teams.
“That’s the thing about Yu Darvish,” Ron Washington said later. “He bends but he doesn’t break.”
Only it wasn’t. Darvish stayed. And stayed. For 130 pitches and eight innings. On a night when Ron Washington wanted to give his tired bullpen a breather, Darvish delivered a huge game for the team with the best record in baseball. Darvish competed and battled and competed some more. He rolled out his entire catalogue. He threw some of his usual 95-mph stuff, but he also threw a couple of pitches clocked at 62 mph. When he walked off the mound after the eighth inning, his teammates greeted him with high fives and pats on the back.
Did I say he battled? Goodness, he battled. During a 10-pitch at-bat in the third, Victor Martinez stepped out of the box at one point and smiled at Darvish. Darvish returned the smile and did the same when the at-bat ended with a sacrifice fly. That smile spoke volumes about what these two teams brought to the table Thursday night in North Texas. Miguel Cabrera also stepped out and smiled during an at-bat in which Darvish threw him, in order, 92 mph, 62 mph, 85 mph.
Martinez gestured toward Darvish when they faced one another in the eighth. It was like he was saying, “Okay, let’s see what you’ve got, big fella.” He did. Here are the speeds of the seven pitches: 67, 64, 97, 64, 94, 84, 96. Yes, fans, the only 64-97-64 combo. Are you kidding me? (V-Mart popped out to Adrian Beltre.)
(By my count, Darvish threw 12 pitches at 95 mph or better and six pitches at 68 mph or slower. Wouldn’t you love to sit in on the scouting reports for this guy?
“Okay, fellas, he can run it up there 97 mph pretty consistently. He’s also got a nasty slider he throws at 85 mph. And there’s this one pitch—we’re not sure what it is—he throws 62 mph. Go get ‘em, boys.
That’s the thing about this wonderful sport. Because we know have the ability to watch every game—that’s your MLB.com at-bat app—we have all these incredible little moments to savor. Sometimes, the games are so good and the competition is so intense that we forget we get to do it all over again 24 hours later. On this night, the Rangers, who are 27-14 and have a seven-game lead in the American League West, were reminded why they invested $100 million in Yu Darvish.
Under GM Jon Daniels, the Rangers have been cautious in their spending. In Darvish, though, they saw someone good enough to build a pitching staff around. It’s not just his assortment of pitches—seven? eight? who knows?—it’s his durability and competitive fire.
Darvish joined Matt Moore as baseball’s only seven-game winners. He’s third in the AL in innings and has 14 more strikeouts than any other Major League pitcher. In nine starts, he has gone fewer than six innings just once and lasted at least seven five times.
In his last 17 starts, he’s 12-2 with a 2.00 ERA and 34 walks and 153 strikeouts. The Rangers are 14-3 in those 17 starts. (During his rookie season, he
joined Herb Score (1955) as the only AL rookies ever to win at least 16 games and strike out at least 221).
If the season ended today, the teams with the three highest payrolls would miss the playoffs. Yes, it’s more tales from the spreadsheets.
The Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies would be out. They’re Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in payroll. The No. 7 Angels would be sitting home, too. So would the No. 9 White Sox and No. 10 Blue Jays.
On the other end, Nos. 28, 29 and 30 would also be out. That’s the Rays, Marlins and Astros.
If you’re keeping score, that means all 10 MLB playoff teams would be bunched in the 24 spots between fourth and 27th. Here’s who’d make it: 4, 5, 6, 8, 11, 15, 18, 22, 24, 27. The Red Sox would be at the high end, the Pirates at the low. The No. 18 Braves, No. 22 Royals and No. 24 Rockies would also have themselves a postseason berth.
The Royals would be making their first postseason appearance in 28 years, the Pirates in 21 years. The Rockies and Red Sox last made it in 2009. Which means that four teams from last year’s postseason tournament–Yankees, Nationals, Reds, A’s–would not make the playoffs.
Are there lessons to be learned from all of this? One is that teams at the bottom of the revenue chart have a chance to compete thanks to revenue sharing and Moneyball. But maybe the real lesson is that luck plays a huge role. The Yankees, Dodgers and Angels have been absolutely crushed by injuries.
Were they poorly designed? No.
Could all three still rally to make the playoffs? In the case of the Yankees, absolutely. The Dodgers and Angels are knee-deep in slumps and injuries. Both would need to do a dramatic turnaround.
The Phillies are an interesting story on their own. They’ve got baseball’s third-highest payroll because, in the wake of winning five straight division championships, they do what good owners almost always do. They tried to keep the band together. Now the band is getting old.
But what were their options? To tell Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard to take a walk? To shake Chase Utley’s hand and wish him well?
Regardless of how it plays out with this group of Phillies, fans in Philadelphia had a great run. To go to the World Series twice and to finish first five years in a row, to play in a rocking, packed ballpark, is special. They sent their fans home happy a whole bunch of times.
GM Ruben Amaro Jr. began the retooling last season, but was hoping to get another nice run from Utley, Jimmy Rollins, etc. Maybe he’ll still get it. There have been hopeful signs from some of those young pitchers, and Utley and Howard have both looked like their old selves at times.
Likewise, the Blue Jays just aren’t the team they drew up in Spring Training. And some of their starting pitchers simply haven’t performed the way they were supposed to perform.
But we haven’t even gotten to the 25-percent poll yet, so there’s plenty of time for things to change. A baseball season eventually exposes every weakness, and some of the teams in good shape right now–Royals, Pirates, Rockies–aren’t perfect clubs, either.
So Don Mattingly is taking some heat for saying nice things about his club. Oh mercy, is that what we’ve come to?
The Dodgers lost three straight one-run games over the weekend in San Francisco, and afterward, Don Mattingly said he liked the way his team went about things. He didn’t like the outcome, but he liked the effort, approach, etc. For this, he has taken some shots.
One columnist used the world “clueless.”
Which brings up an interesting question.
What is a manager supposed to say in such situations? Is there anything he can say that will sound right?
I know what we want him to say. We want him to name names. We want him to call ‘em all dogs, to threaten ‘em and to declare things are about to change.
Problem is, that stuff never works. It didn’t work 50 years ago, and it sure doesn’t work now in this era of big salaries and guaranteed contracts and the like. Managers have nothing to gain by ripping players publicly. In fact, that’s about the quickest way to lose a club.
Instead, he must communicate, explain and get his guys to play hard each and every single game. His only real power is the lineup card, and with star players, that doesn’t go very far, either. He must get his players to believe that he makes every single decision thinking only of what’s best for the team.
I honestly can’t remember a manager ripping his players and lasting very long. I don’t think the great managers I’ve known—Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox, Bruce Bochy, Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Joe Maddon, etc.,—have ever publicly ripped a player.
“Just line us up and shoot us,” Earl Weaver once said after a tough defeat in 1986. “That’s what we deserve.”
That’s a funny quote. Got a few chuckles. Eased the tension in the room.
Notice that Earl didn’t mention any specific player. I’m not sure he ever did.
He was masterful with the media. During tough times, he would talk and talk and talk. He’d cuss and argue and tell a few jokes. He’d also keep us long enough that a good number of his players had time to shower and leave. In other words, during tough times, he was going to make it all about him.
But during good times, he’d broke off a few answers and told us to go talk to the players.
Plenty of people didn’t think Mattingly deserved the job when the Dodgers hired him after Joe Torre’s departure two years ago. He had never managed on any level, and if he really wanted to manage, he’d get some experience managing in the Minor Leagues.
Today, almost everyone agrees he has done a first-rate job. He has set the right tone with his players and worked hard at the preparation part of it. He has maintained pretty much the same demeanor in good times and bad.
In other words, the Dodgers aren’t in last place because of their manager. Let’s run down a few reasons:
- Three starting pitchers—Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly—are on the Disabled List.
- SS Hanley Ramirez has played four games and is back on the Disabled List.
- CF Matt Kemp has one home run.
- RF Andre Ethier is hitting .241.
- 2B Mark Ellis is on the Disabled List.
- 3B Luis Cruz is hitting .091.
- The Dodgers are next to last in the NL in runs and 11th in ERA.
In other words, they haven’t done much of anything right. Even worse, they have no idea when Greinke will return or when Kemp and Ethier will start to hit. There’s still plenty of time to make a run, but the Dodgers have eight teams to pass to get one of the NL Wild Card berths.
With a patchwork rotation and a lineup dotted with slumps, there’s no reason to think they’re good enough to do it. And if they don’t, there’s nothing Mattingly can say that will make anyone, including himself, feel better.
On this first day of May, the Red Sox, Orioles and Yankees have to be feeling pretty good about things. Let’s face it, not everyone believed in these three clubs. So far, though, they’ve passed every test.
The Rockies, Royals, Pirates, Diamondbacks and Brewers are off to solid starts, too. There were significant questions about all those teams as well.
As for seven teams that were supposed to be good—Braves, Rangers, A’s, Tigers, Cardinals, Reds and Giants—they’ve plowed through the opening month pretty much on course. The Rangers, Braves and Tigers seem to have virtually no weaknesses, the A’s very few. The Cardinals, Reds and Giants all have areas of concern, but there’s no reason to think they won’t all be playing for postseason spots in September.
Now about the Blue Jays, Angels and Dodgers. All three have been hit hard by injuries and poor performances, and all three have disappointing opening months. Expectations bring a particular kind of pressure which only adds to the pressure of a slow start.
The Nationals? They were pretty much the consensus No. 1 pick in most power rankings, and to finish April with a losing record is one of the biggest surprises of the season’s first month.
It’s more troubling because it’s not a matter of fixing just one thing. At various times, there have been problems with the rotation, defense, bullpen and offense. They’re also finding that expectations bring more scrutiny and add a bit of sting to every defeat.
There’s nothing wrong with the Nationals that a 10-game winning streak wouldn’t cure, but they usually begin with a starting rotation putting a team on its back. At the moment, the Nationals don’t have enough starters pitching well to roll off a long win streak. And yet, virtually every opposing manager, scout, etc., believes the Nationals will still be playing October baseball despite the slow start.
These opening weeks of a new season are a time when teams begin to settle into the rhythm of a long season. There’s also some team building to be done in the early part of a season because, as Tony La Russa once said, “The group dynamics change every year.”
The Red Sox were changed so dramatically, both in terms of atmosphere and personnel, that it was difficult to know what they were going to be. There was no question general manager Ben Cherington had a tremendous off-season, first with the hiring of John Farrell as manager and then in bringing in a bunch of tough-as-nails, consummate professionals like Mike Napoli, David Ross, Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew and Ryan Dempster.
There were two questions about the Red Sox: 1. How much productive baseball did those guys still have in the tank? 2. Can Farrell resurrect Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey?
It’s one thing to have a new environment and all that, but if the starting pitching didn’t improve, it wasn’t going to matter. This first month has been a perfect storm in which almost everything has gone right. Those pitchers have been dominant, and the Red Sox have gotten offensive production up and down the lineup.
The Orioles made almost no changes, but there was all kinds of doubt that they could repeat last season’s magic in which they used 52 players, including 12 starting pitchers. Nineteen different pitchers got at least one victory, and the Orioles were 29-9 in one-run games and won 16 straight extra-inning games at one point.
It defied logic to think they could defy the odds for a second straight year. And maybe they won’t.
Maybe, as manager Buck Showalter preached during Spring Training, they’re just a real solid club with terrific leadership and a great manager. They sprinted out of April on a pace to win 96 games with the American League’s second-best offense and second-best bullpen.
Beyond those numbers, the Orioles think they’re good enough to win a championship and feed off the fact that so many others don’t. First baseman Chris Davis is throwing MVP-type numbers on the board, and it looks like it’s going to be a fun hardball summer in Charm City.
The Yankees had more questions than anyone as general manager Brian Cashman scrambled to fill roster spots as one player after another went down. And even with an array of new faces—Travis Hafner and Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay and others—the Yankees on a pace to win—wait for it—100 games.
If you were hoping for some pennant-race clarity in this opening month, you’re going to be disappointed. Just like last season when at least 20 teams were still in contention at the All-Star Break, more teams than ever believe they’ve got a shot at playing October baseball.
That’s true for the Yankees and Red Sox, as usual, and it’s also true for the Pirates, Royals and Brewers. Ain’t this fun?
We’re used to seeing players changing uniforms, but watching James Shields pitch against the Rays will take some getting used to.
When the history of the Tampa Bay Rays is written, James Shields will have his own fat chapter. Perhaps more than any other single player, he’s responsible for the franchise becoming one of the most efficient, admired and successful in the game.
Others—Stu Sternberg, Matt Silverman, Andrew Friedman—drew up the blueprint. Joe Maddon has brilliantly managed the roster and the games. Jim Hickey may be the best pitching coach on the planet. And obviously Evan Longoria, Ben Zobrist, B.J. Upton, David Price and plenty of others have been hugely important.
To average 92 victories over a five-year stretch in which the payroll has remained one of baseball’s lowest is an amazing accomplishment. The Rays, along with the Oakland A’s, have changed expectations in every city. Once upon a time, there was a correlation between baseball’s payroll rankings and its standings.
Now every team has a chance to compete. That’s why nine franchises have won the World Series the last 12 years, and their average payroll rank has been 10th. There’s a smaller margin for error with less money, but there’s still opportunity. Let’s not discount the importance of money. It makes everything easier. It allows a GM to take a more conventional route to filling roster sports instead of hoping to find lightning in a bottle in the bargain-basement bin.
Now about James Shields. Tampa Bay’s assembly line of pitchers began with his promotion to the Major Leagues in 2006. He was only a 16th-round draft pick in 2000, so it was clear some people doubted he’d make it.
What the Rays found out about him is that he had Major League stuff. He has a 92-mph fastball, an 89-mph cutter and a slider and a change-up. Beyond the stuff that can be measured, he has an enormous drive to succeed. He’s diligent in the weight room and in his work between starts. He’s driven to prepare and to attempt to find ways to exploit a hitter’s weakness.
From him, others followed. Because he was the senior guy, others understood what was expected of them. He showed the way. The Rays did a tremendous job bringing pitching talent into the organization, but Shields helped them understand what it meant to be a Major League pitcher.
With free agency approaching, the Rays traded him to the Royals during the off-season. But his legacy remains in David Price and Matt Moore and the others. He has done for the Royals what he’d done for the Rays. Royals GM Dayton Moore said he felt the impact of Shields’ professionalism on the first day of Spring Training.
It would be an amazing legacy if Shields can help get the Royals into the postseason. To have had the impact he has had on one organization is a pretty nice thing for the resume. To be able to do it twice would tell you how special he is. Anyway, he’s pitching against the Rays for the first time tonight.
As much as the Rays would have liked to have kept him, they’re in a financial position where they have to make tough calls. It’s painful at times, but they’re confident in the way they go about their business. And it has made this day of the regular season a bit more special.
Umpires are urged to walk away from arguments. Sometimes, that’s easier said that done. Just ask Tom Hallion and David Price.
If you’re scoring at home, plate umpire Tom Hallion seemed to be more in the wrong than David Price. On the other hand, this situation was similar to the Zack Greinke-Carlos Quentin incident. In the heat of the moment, competitive people occasionally do and say things they might regret upon reflection. And that’s how things got out of hand.
Hallion lost his cool. Then Price lost his.
Or maybe Price lost his first when he reacted from the mound to what he saw as an inconsistent strike zone.
And then Hallion responded.
After the game, it continued. Hallion ripped Price to a pool reporter. Price responded on twitter.
When the various layers are unwrapped, Hallion should not have said anything to Price as he walked off the mound.
If Price had been yapping at him from the mound, Hallion could have tossed him. But if, as Hallion said, he didn’t like Price’s body language, that’s not good enough.
Umpires are encouraged to walk away from arguments and not to be the aggressors. Regardless of whether Hallion used a profanity, he was out of line for lecturing Price in that situation.
Again, though, it’s how competitive people sometimes react. If I’m Tom Hallion, I’m reviewing video of his strike zone in that game and seeing what kind of day he had. If he did indeed have a wandering strike zone, it would not be the worst thing in the world if he telephoned Price and said as much.
After all, their paths will cross many times in the years ahead.
If Hallion felt like he had a good day behind the plate, then he ought to call Price and tell him that, too. He could say that, having had a night to sleep on it, he should have kept his mouth shut after the inning.
Likewise, Price may regret calling Hallion a “coward” even if he had just been called a liar.
It’s important to remember this stuff has been going on in Major League Baseball since the beginning. The difference is that social media has given players an unfiltered voice they never had before and that television replays pretty much let the whole world know what kind of day a plate umpire is having.
I was watching a game the other night, and on a close call on the bases, it took about three replays to see that the umpire had missed the call.
Rather than point out that it was a nearly impossible call to make, the announce yapped, “He blew the call!”
Yeah, he blew it, and it only took three high-def replays to determine that.
As a longtime student of The Earl of Baltimore, I’ve seen umpire-player/manager arguments from just about every angle. I saw Frank Robinson get tossed about 10 seconds after handing the lineup card to an umpire.
And one day, I saw Roger Clemens have the best conversation a player could have with an ump. On a day when he thought the strike zone was unreasonable, he summoned the ump for a chat.
“I’m working out here!” Clemens screamed.
“I’m working, too!” the umpire yelled back.
“Well, you’re going to have to work a little harder, or it’s going to be a short day,” Clemens answered.
“I’m giving you all I got, Roger,” the umpire answered.
It was an interesting talk. Both men had their say, and then they went about their business.
Clemens simply wasn’t going to give in. Not to the hitter. Not to the umpire.
There was a portion of the plate that belonged to him, and he was letting the umpire know he had to have those pitches.
Clemens ended up, as usual, pitching six or seven innings that day and allowing, as usual, two runs or less. His day almost ended early. In a heat of the moment, both men declined to cross a line. There’s something to be learned from them.
To the tote board we go:
- Red Sox pitchers lead the majors with 218 strikeouts and need 14 more to break the franchise’s all-time record of 231 in September, 2000.
- They lead the majors with 10 strikeouts per 9 innings and have 14 games of 10+ strikeouts. The Reds are next with 10.
- Boston’s rotation is second in the American League with a 3.10 ERA, trailing only the Rangers (3.09). They lead the majors with 143 strikeouts and 9.6 strikeouts per 9 innings.
- The Red Sox are 10-0 in games started by Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz and 3-0 when Felix Doubront gets the ball.
- Opponents are hitting .225 against the Red Sox, lowest in the American League and third-lowest in MLB.
If you’re looking for a reason to believe in the Red Sox, this is it. And it’s not like it’s going to vaporize overnight. Lester has a dazzling track record. No pitcher on earth has better pure stuff than Buchholz. Doubront is a big, hard-throwing lefty who has a chance to be a dominant performer. If John Lackey is still capable of pitching at a high level—and there’s no reason to think he can’t—then the Red Sox will have a championship-caliber rotation. Even without him, they’ve got a rotation good enough to dominate in October.
All that remains is getting to October, and that’s the problem. The Orioles and Rays are both good enough to win a World Series, and the Yankees could be depending on what they get from Jeter, Tex and A-Rod in the final two months of the season. If that sounds confusing, check out the landscape of the rest of the American League.
Okay, there’s the American League West. The Rangers probably are the AL’s best team. The A’s are plenty good enough to make the playoffs. The Tigers are better than they were last season. The Royals are going to be in contention until the end, and the Twins are on the verge of being really good.
Welcome to the age of parity. At least 20 teams believe they’re going to the playoffs, and when you throw the Pirates, Royals and Twins into the mix, that number is larger. The NL may have four teams—Cardinals, Reds, Giants, Braves—better than any AL club, but the Nationals, Diamondbacks, Pirates and Brewers clearly have a chance.
As for the Angels, Dodgers and Blue Jays, who were a lot of peoples’ World Series picks, they’ve got issues with injuries and poor play in some areas. But we’re just getting started, and what looks flawed today could look completely different on August 15.
Red Sox GM Ben Cherington did a tremendous job changing his club’s environment and personnel last off-season. At the moment, it’s easy to see them winning a World Series. But it’s also easy to see them getting edged out by the Orioles and Rays in the AL East and then having the A’s or Royals or some other team grab the final playoff berth. Wasn’t life simpler when he looked at the payrolls and were able to decipher the standings?
He has been indestructible. He played through everything. Actually, he did more than just play. He played at the highest level. Through all the years, his expectations for himself—and our expectations for him—never changed. Two years ago when we were about to write him off, he came back better than ever.
He turned 38 last season midway through his 18th Major League season. He batted .316. Until the moment his left ankle was torn apart in Game 1 of the ALCS, he seemed to be what he’d pretty much always been. That is, one of the players every other was measured against. As Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said, “We’ve never evaluated him the way we evaluate others.”
Maybe he’ll still be Superman again. That’s the thought that keeps going through the minds of almost everyone around the Yankees. If he was another player about to turn 39 years old and coming off a horrific injury, we’d wonder what he could still be.
But we’ve never looked at Jeter that way. No matter how bad the injury was, we just thought he’d be back earlier than expected and as good as ever. Even this spring when it was obvious he was having trouble running and that his recovery wasn’t going as smoothly as everyone hoped, we kept thinking he’d show up one day as good as new.
If he was another 38-year-old player, we’d feel differently. But he wasn’t. He was Jeter.
Maybe you noticed that the Yankees were decimated by injuries this spring. They were hit so hard that it was easy to see them finishing last in the AL East. But no one actually thought they’d finish last. That’s because they were still going to have Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Derek Jeter.
If they still had those three future Hall of Famers, how bad could it be?
On Thursday, there was more sobering news about Jeter with the announcement he’ll be out until at least the All-Star Break. That’s a guess since no one knows how quickly this latest injury will heal or when Jeter will be able to put weight on his left ankle.
Cashman has done a tremendous job piecing a competitive club together despite the injuries, and if Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira can return and play at a high level, the Yankees have a chance to win the American League East again. If that happens, Jeter has to be part of the deal.
He has represented the game too well and accomplished too much not to have one more October ride. It’s starting to become clear that he won’t have many more of them. If nothing else, let’s hope he gets to go out on his own terms. It has been an honor to watch him play. It would be an even greater honor to see him play some more.
The Tigers won your basic seven-reliever, 14-inning, 4-hour, 27-minute victory Wednesday in Seattle, and who doesn’t enjoy one of those? I just hope they didn’t cut off sales of grilled salmon sandwiches in the seventh inning. Speaking of shutting something down, Detroit’s bullpen was outstanding, throwing zeroes on the board for the final six innings.
Remember that bullpen? It’s the one that had the Tigers so worried at the end of Spring Training and the one that has had a couple of uncomfortable moments in these opening weeks. The Tigers don’t know who is going to close games long-term, leaving Jim Leyland to mix and match the late innings.
That’s not the way they’d like doing business, but let’s face it, if you’re going to ask your manager to figure something out on the fly, there’s no one better than Leyland to do it. Having managed 3,351 games, he has seen pretty much everything. It’s not that the Tigers don’t have options. They have plenty of big league arms in the bullpen.
But they don’t have anyone who has ever had a lot of success pitching the ninth inning, and not everyone is cut out for that particular job. Early in his career with the Phillies, Billy Wagner blew a save. When the hardball writers entered the clubhouse, they found Wagner waiting at his locker.
He had blown a lead, and he was going to be accountable. When he finished talking that night, he said, “If the same thing happens tomorrow night, I’ll be right here again.” On the morning after Brad Lidge gave up a gut-wrenching home run to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS, Wagner phoned Lidge.
“It’s not about what you did last night,” he said. “It’s how you recover and move on.”
Closers are out there without a safety net, and some relievers aren’t comfortable. Those that are really good with it simply put it out of their minds and move on. The Tigers aren’t sure they’ve got that guy.
However, they are sure they’ve got one of the best teams in baseball. They’ve got arguably the best rotation and best offense. They’ve got one of the best general managers (Dave Dombrowski) and one of the best managers (Leyland) ever. If there was a team that could figure something out, it’s the Tigers. At the moment, only the Astros have a higher ERA among American League bullpens.
Tigers starter Max Scherzer turned a 1-1 tie over to his bullpen in the bottom of the ninth inning. Leyland summoned Octavio Dotel, who faced two Mariners and failed to retire either of them. Phil Coke did a terrific job in getting Raul Ibanez to ground into a double play and then striking out Justin Smoak with the winning run on third.
Leyland used Brayan Villareal and Darin Downs to get through the 10th inning, then got two huge innings from Al Albuquerque and one apiece from Drew Smyly and Joaquin Benoit. Victor Martinez’s leadoff single in the 14th set up the winning rally, and Benoit, the projected eighth-inning guy before rookie Bruce Rondon had a tough spring and was sent back down, finished up for his first save of the season.
By finished up, I mean he got the save when Prince Fielder threw out Smoak at the plate to end it. C Brayan Pena absorbed a brutal hit from Smoak to hold onto the ball.
It seemed logical that Roy Halladay eventually would pitch a game like this. Even with diminished velocity, he still has plenty of weapons. He has always known how to use them, too. He has been relentless in his preparation, in figuring out how to attack opponents and how to adjust to what he had working on a particular day.
Just because he couldn’t throw his fastball as hard as he once did shouldn’t be taken for the end of his career. If there was a question about what he could still be, it would be about his overall health. If he’s pitching without significant pain, then he might still be able to generate enough arm speed and arm action for his cutter and curve to be effective. He’d have less margin for error and because there was going to be a smaller difference between his change and his fastball, he had to be precise in his location.
He’d probably tell you that all those things were always true. Even a 100-mph fastball is hittable if it’s thrown down the middle of the plate. It’s less hittable than an 88-mph fastball thrown down the middle of the plate, but location will always as important as velocity.
Halladay had such a bad Spring Training and then got beat up so badly in his first two regular-season starts that it was easy to wonder if the end was at hand. If Nolan Ryan is right that an arm has only so many bullets in it, Halladay possibly had used his up.
He was once as durable as any pitcher, throwing 2,687 innings in his first 15 years. He led the American League in innings three times and the National League once. Between 2002 and 2011, he averaged 219 innings a season. But Halladay insisted he still had something left in the tank.
He simply had to make a mechanical adjustment with his cutter and get everything synched up. When he did, he’d still be able to pitch at a high level. If Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee are still capable of being top-of-the-rotation starters, the Phillies might have another playoff run in them.
Hopefully, Sunday’s eight-inning, one-run performance against the Marlins represents a turning of the page for Halladay. He’s probably still a work in progress, so we’ll know more after his next start against the Cardinals. Still, the Phillies have to be thrilled by what they saw from Halladay against the Marlins.
He got outs on all his pitches, not just the cutter he has worked so hard to fine tune, but also his two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball. He touched 90 mph only a couple of times, but those days probably are gone forever.
“He carries a lot of respect. They know how dedicated and how hard he works.”—Charlie Manuel
The Phillies said they were not even considering pulling the plug on him, with GM Ruben Amaro Jr. saying Halladay would get all the time he needed to work out his problems. Amaro seemed confidence Halladay would do just that.
“He understands the game. Nobody is more prepared than him. His velocity might have been down a few ticks, but when he needed to make pitches, he made pitches.”—Mike Redmond
Now there’s something tangible on which to base that optimism.