Couple of Pitching Gems & Peek at the Picks

Hello again everybody.

Pardon me if I'm a bit brusque today. You see, I work in a building that was built sometime around the turn of the 20th century and the climate control system hasn't been upgraded much since then. So every now and then during the summer, the air conditioning decides to work in only about 80% of the building. And it seems that Studio 6, where I spend 8 solid hours keeping the WCCO radio bus out of the ditch, is part of the unlucky 20%. So if you're tuned in to the big 830 today and you hear what sounds like 5 fans running in the background, you're not hearing things. They're actually there. And it's not even so much the heat that annoys me. It's knowing that it's going to take forever to get it fixed. We've been without a CD player in the studio for about 3 weeks now because there's some "requisition process" that the fine folks who run the place have to go through to replace the one that broke down. Oof.

(End of "Job Rant")

Today I'm going to recap a couple of pitching gems from last night. There was a near no-hitter in Boston (though not by the Red Sox, whom I hate) and a not-quite-as-near perfect game in San Diego (also by the visiting pitcher... that coincidence just dawned on me). Then it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment.

The squeaking wheel doesn't always get the grease. Sometimes it gets replaced.
- Vic Gold, (even Google couldn't tell me who this guy is, but I love the quote... are you listening Manny Ramirez?!)

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We'll start today's column by traveling to Boston where the Los Angeles Angels made the top of the sports news yesterday for two reasons. First they made what's likely to be the last big-name trade before tomorrow's 3pm CDT trade deadline.
(Ed.'s Note: And of course, after I wrote that, news came down the wire that the Yankees have acquired C Ivan Rodriguez from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for RP Kyle Farnsworth. I've got a $10 bet with a colleague that the Yankees won't make the playoffs. This doesn't help.)
Atlanta sent 1B Mark Texiera to the Angels in return for 1B Casey Kotchman and a minor league pitcher. Then last night Angels pitcher John Lackey threw 8 1/3 innings worth of no-hit baseball before pesky Red Sox (whom I hate) 2B Dustin Pedroia broke it up with a single to left field. Had Lackey completed the no-no, it would've been the 3rd no-hitter in a row to take place at Fenway Park and the first by a visiting pitcher in 50 years.

Lackey came into last night's contest with a record of 8-2. He's a quality starter, but had been troubled by injuries at the start of the season. Apparently he's back and better than ever. He befuddled the Red Sox (whom I hate) for 8 solid innings, walking two and hitting another batter for the only three baserunners Boston (whom I hate) could muster until the ninth inning.

Lackey started the ninth inning well enough, striking out Jacoby Ellsbury with a wicked slider. But then came Dustin Pedroia. If Pedroia didn't play for Boston (whom I hate) he'd be one of my favorite players. It's not that he's un-athletic per se, but he's not on anybody's 5-tool player list either. He just works hard at every at bat, at every play in the field, every day. And it's impossible not to respect a guy that plays that way.

So Pedroia comes to the plate recognizing that Lackey is having a lot of success with his slider. So instead of taking those and looking for a fastball to hit, Pedroia went up looking for the slide-piece and shot the first one he saw into left-field to break up the no-hitter.

Throwing a no-hitter is an incredibly mentally-taxing effort. Once you get past the 5th or 6th inning with those goose eggs on the board, there's no way that it can be ignored anymore. So not only does the pitcher have to focus on pitching the game the way he always would, he has to do so while trying to shut out the "Oh my God, I'm throwing a no-no" thoughts. So often after a pitcher gets his no-hitter broken up, there's a tendency to relax. Once the stress of a no-hitter is gone, it's "take a deep breath time". The trick is to re-focus quickly after that deep breath. And that's where a lot of pitchers get tripped up.

As did Lackey last night. After Pedroia's hit, Lackey threw a cookie to Kevin Youklis. And Youk didn't miss it, hammering the pitch over the green monster for Boston's (whom I hate) only 2 runs of the game.

So Lackey still got the win to go to 9-2, and offered the usual platitudes after the game: "A no-hitter would've been nice. You know what's going on, but it wasn't affecting me. I just wanted to win the game."

The second pitching-gem of the night was turned in by Arizona's Doug Davis as the Diamondbacks visited the San Diego Padres. Davis was perfect through 6 2/3 before giving up a soft single to left by Brian Giles. Davis got through the rest of the 7th without incident.

But then came the 8th when manager Bob Melvin just about blew Davis' outstanding performance for him. After getting the leadoff batter, Davis allowed a walk and a single to bring his pitch-total to 116. It was pretty clear that he was gassed at this point. I was really shocked that Melvin didn't take him out right there. If Melvin had, Davis would've been guaranteed at worst a no-decision, as he'd have only been responsible for the two runners already on base. Therefore if San Diego had tied it, or taken the lead, Davis couldn't be responsible and couldn't take the loss.

But instead of taking him out, Melvin sent pitching coach Brian Price out to the mound to check on Davis, who naturally said he had enough left to get a couple more outs. Well he got one more before walking another Padre to load the bases and raise his pitch total to 124. At this point, Melvin had no choice and took Davis out. But now, instead of bringing in John Rauch with the tying run at the plate, he came in with the tying run already on first. Believe it or not, that's a significant difference.

The next batter was Jody Gerut who crushed a Rauch fastball to the deepest part of Petco Park. And it was only a spectacular running catch by Alex Romero that saved the game from being tied. If you'd care to see the catch, which in my opinion was reminiscent of Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch, click here and scroll down to the bottom where it says "Romero makes a great catch in right-center".

My point is, had Melvin taken Davis out with only two on, a mistake-pitch like that wouldn't have come so close to costing the D'backs the game. I admire Melvin for showing faith in his pitcher, especially when Davis had pitched so well. But it's specifically because he pitched so well that Melvin needed to yank him a couple of batters earlier and protect his outstanding performance.

As it turns out, Arizona held on for the win and Davis moved his record to 4-5 on the year and closer Brandon Lyon picked up his 22nd save. You might recall a previous column where I talked about games where you can pick up a win even though you haven't played well enough to really deserve it? This was one of those games for the Padres. The D'backs made a mistake with how they handled the pitching staff and opened the door, but the Padres couldn't quite walk through.

Kudos to both John Lackey and Doug Davis on their performances.

Finally today it's this week's Peek at the Picks segment, where I compare the current MLB standings to my pre-season picks, and you all laugh at how horribly I'm doing!

NL East: NY Mets, 58-49 (Dan's Pick: Mets)
I'd love to crow about this one, especially given how far the Mets have come from earlier this year. But given that they have only a half-game lead on the Phillies, this one's far from over. And believe it or not, has already started publishing magic numbers (the combinations of division-leader wins and second-place team losses required to clinch a division title) for each of the 6 MLB divisions. The Mets magic number? 56. Somebody at CBS must be really bored.

NL Central: Chicago Cubs, 63-44 (DP: Cubs)
First off, allow me to offer my apologies to you Brewer fans. I really didn't want to put the whammy on you by picking your club to take 3 of 4 from the Cubs. I thought maybe this would finally be the call where I broke my curse. Apparently not so much. The Cubs have taken the first two games of the series by beating the two best pitchers that the Brewers have. Ouch. Sorry 'bout that. The good news is that the Cubs' magic number is 53. There's still plenty of season to go, right? Right?!

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks, 54-52 (DP: D'backs)
Wow. 3 for 3 in the NL. Anybody else feel the other shoe about to drop? The D'backs moves have panned out so far. Tony Clark has been a solid fill-in at first base. And John Rauch has started to stabilize the back end of the bullpen. The result? Arizona's won 7 of their last 10. The Dodgers are still hanging around only 1 game back, making the 4-game series that starts Thursday between the two clubs all the more important.

AL East: Tampa Bay Rays, 63-44 (DP: Boston, whom I hate, 2.5 Games Back)
The Rays had something of a swoon prior to the All Star break, but have steadied the ship here in the second half. The Red Sox (whom I hate) are having all sorts of PR trouble courtesy of Manny Ramirez who isn't intelligent enough to realize that challenging your team to trade you doesn't have the best effect on your clubhouse. Manny? Shhhhhh. Just hit, son. Just hit.

AL Central: Chicago White Sox, 59-46 (DP: Detroit Tigers, 5.5 GB)
The Tigers just can't seem to get that deficit below 5 games. And with the Twins staying right with the White Sox, that'll make Detroit's climb towards the top all that much more difficult. I won't mind being wrong here if the Twins take the division. But some key finger-injuries (Tolbert, Cuddyer and now Alexi Casilla) makes that prospect just a bit dimmer. I shouldn't complain though. The Twins have taken the first 2 of a 4-game set with Chicago. So I'm guaranteed at least the split I predicted. See Brewer fans? It's not all bad when I make picks!

AL West: Los Angeles Angels, 66-40 (DP: Seattle Mariners, 26 GB)
0-3 in the AL? Now that's more like it! I still have only 3 entries in the "How many Games Back will Seattle finish?" contest. Get your entry in now to: Big prizes people. Big prizes! Okay, maybe not, but you get bragging rights anyway! The Angels have the best record in baseball and just got a lot better with the addition of Texiera. Predictably, they have the smallest magic number: 45.

That's all for today folks. Hope you come back on Friday for more of the wonder that is The Sports Take. Until then, thanks, as always, for reading!

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