May 24, 2017

G45: Red Sox 9, Rangers 4

Rangers - 000 120 010 - 4  7  3
Red Sox - 001 000 71x - 9 12  1
The Red Sox have scored 32 runs in winning their last three games. They have scored those runs in the best way possible, by relentlessly moving the line, having everyone in the lineup contribute. And they have eschewed the long ball. Of their 39 hits in the three games, 31 of them have been singles. The Red Sox have hit seven doubles and one home run. A key element to the offensive fireworks has been 19 walks.

After Sunday's 12-3 victory over Oakland on Sunday, Mitch Moreland (who hit that lone dong) said the important thing wasn't the number of home runs the team hit, but the number of runs they scored. Dave O'Brien repeated those words late in tonight's game, adding, "But I want to see home runs. And Red Sox fans want to see home runs."

No, Dave, Red Sox fans wants to see WINS. It should be obvious to everyone that it is far more fun to go to Fenway Park - or tune into NESN - and see a Red Sox win with no home runs than to watch the Red Sox club four balls over the fence and lose by three runs. (Though, honestly, in O'Brien's case, considering his ridiculous obsession with home runs, I think he might prefer the dingers and loss. He spent time tonight telling us how many home runs one of the Rangers' young hitters blasted in high school, for god's sake! I swear, if he ever talks about how many home runs Sam Travis hit in Little League, I'm going to lose my mind.)

Okay, so Boston trailed 3-1 going into the bottom of the seventh. Rangers manager Jeff Bannister made several bad decisions in this inning, some questionable, some downright bizarre. First, starter Martin Perez was brought back out for the seventh even though he was at 103 pitches (one shy of his season high). It wasn't the bonehead move that O'Brien and Dennis Eckersley insisted it was, but Perez certainly had done his job and no one would have blinked an eye if Texas had gone to the pen.

Perez retired Chris Young on a fly to left. Then Andrew Benintendi reached on an infield single to second base. (At that point, Boston had five hits and three of them were infield singles. Who could have anticipated what would soon happen?) Sam Travis followed with a hit to right-center -- he got his first major league hit in his previous plate appearance, an infield hit leading off the fifth - and Perez (6.1-6-3-2-4, 113) left with runners at first and third.

Now here is where Bannister clearly made a gigantic mistake. His team was up by two runs but the Red Sox had the potential tying runs on base with one out. Logic tells you that this is where you bring in one of your best arms (if not the best), because the game is on the line. But Bannister brought in Sam Dyson, the worst possible choice he could have made. Dyson's numbers are ugly: a 9.42 ERA and an opponents' batting average and OPS of .365 and 1.056. (Only two batters in the AL have a higher OPS than that.) To their credit, the Red Sox did exactly what they should have done to a pitcher with that shitty track record.

The short version? Dyson faced seven batters - and got no outs. All seven batters reached base and five of them scored. And the two inherited runners scored, too. ... I repeat, Bannister left Dyson, who was doing nothing right, in to face seven batters.

Moreland, batting for Sandy Leon, was the first batter to face Dyson. He grounded a single past Roughned Odor at second, into right-center, and a run scored. Then Josh Rutledge, pinch-hitting for Deven Marrero, poked the first pitch into right, scoring Travis and tying the game. Shin-Soo Choo's throw to the plate was wild and Rutledge went to second on the error.

The Rangers gave an intentional walk to Mookie Betts, loading the bases. Bad strategy. With Dustin Pedroia at the plate, Dyson threw a wild pitch, giving the Red Sox a 4-3 lead. Pedroia followed by knocking the next pitch off the glove of third baseman Joey Gallo. The ball rolled into short left, and two runs scored. Xander Bogaerts drove a 1-1 pitch into the gap in right-center; it hit on the warning track and bounced into the bleachers for a double. Pedroia had to stop at third. (Dyson was still on the mound, by the way, as the game slipped through the Rangers' fingers.) Hanley Ramirez was intentionally walked, reloading the bases. Young battled for eight pitches and drew an unintentional walk, forcing in another run (7-3).

Bannister finally emerged from the dugout to pull Dyson, bringing in the awesomely named Austin Bibens-Dirkx. Benintendi should have fouled out to Mike Napoli for the second out, but the Texas first baseman overran the popup and it fell for an error. (Napoli also botched a foul pop in the fourth for an error and the Red Sox had it happen to Christian Vazquez in the ninth. Strange stuff.) Back in the box, Benintendi hit a sac fly to left. 8-3. Travis struck out; he swung and missed at two pitches and took strike three, but the three balls he saw were also in the strike zone. (Home plate umpire Alfonso Marquez had a very bad night behind the plate.)

Chris Sale struck out the first man he faced and collected two more strikeouts in the second inning. But he finished the game with only six (7.1-6-4-1-6, 97), ending his streak of starts with 10+ K at eight. Sale walked the leadoff hitter in the fourth and he eventually scored. Texas did not get its first hit until Napoli homered with one out in the fifth.

However, Marquez clearly robbed Sale of two strikeouts, refusing to call strike three on Joey Gallo in the third (he popped to right) and Mike Napoli in the seventh (he singled).

Robinson Chirinos followed Gallo to the plate and Sale's third pitch to him was in the exact same spot as the 2-2 pitch to Gallo - and this time it was a strike. (Perez's first pitch in the bottom of the inning, to Travis, was also in the same spot, also called a strike.)

In the Napoli at-bat, Sale's 2-2 pitch was well within the strike zone. Marquez called it ball 3 and Sale, usually utterly unflappable on the mound, took a step towards the plate, then turned his back quickly, waving his left arm dismissively at Marquez, as if he wasn't worth the effort. Napoli singled on the very next pitch and it appeared that Sale was yelling in to the umpire, perhaps blaming him for the hit, but NESN showed only the back of Sale's head.

So those two plate appearances should have been strikeouts. And there were three other instances where Marquez blew a call early in the at-bat, thus affecting what happened next:
Choo, 3rd inning: Sale's first two pitches appeared to be strikes, but were both called balls. On a 3-1 pitch, Choo grounded to Sale unassisted.

Jonathan Lucroy, 4th inning: The first pitch was on the black. Marquez had called several pitches in that location strikes earlier in the game. But not this time. Lucroy ended up grounding to first.

Napoli, 5th inning: Sale's first pitch was on the inside corner, but called a ball. Napoli took two strikes before hitting a home run.
I mention this in such detail because it is so goddamn annoying. If a pitcher throws a strike, he should get credit for a strike. Yet, at times, this seems like a controversial opinion. An umpire who cannot judge the strike zone correctly from pitch to pitch (never mind batter to batter or inning to inning) is worthless and his performance should be convincing evidence that MLB needs to do something if it wants to maintain its credibility.

Fans watch umpires clearly blow many ball-strike calls in every single game, every single night - and games (many of them important to teams' playoff hopes) are decided on those wrong calls. Having the opportunity to challenge certain calls is a great first step, though, of course, MLB created a cumbersome and time-consuming process to do so. It could easily be streamlined with very little effort, if MLB gave a shit, which it appears not to.

Last season, the constant blown calls behind the plate really got to me. At more than a few points, I wondered if I would have to simply stop watching baseball games, since I was extremely frustrated on a nightly basis because I knew - I could see it on the screen in front of me - that the games were not ultimately being decided by the players.
Martin Perez / Chris Sale
Betts, RF
Pedroia, 2B
Bogaerts, SS
Ramirez, DH
Young, LF
Benintendi, CF
Travis, 1B (major league debut)
Leon, C
Marrero, 3B
Can Chris Sale become the first pitcher in major league history to strike out 10+ batters in nine consecutive starts? (The Rangers are fifth in the AL in team strikeouts (averaging 8.3 per game).)

ESPN's Scott Lauber offers "three simple steps" to fix the Red Sox: "Trade for a power hitter [Mike Moustakas, perhaps] ... Make sure Price is right ... Give Farrell some more relief [i.e., a reliable setup man]."

David Price will make his second (and last) minor league rehab start tonight for (and in) Pawtucket against the Louisville Bats.


allan said...

This SoSH exchange from last week is apropos.

CB Bucknor at it again. Looks like he had dinner reservations in Detroit. Calls an obvious no swing by Machado a swing, game over with men on 1st and 3rd. BTW he was on 1st and they appealled to him. Even the guys at MLBN were like "there are no restaurants open that late in Detroit!"

jon abbey:
Haha, I was watching on my phone and didn't realize that was CB Bucknor who made that call, but man does that make sense. That guy might be as bad at his job as Harold Reynods is at his, and that is saying something.

Unknown said...

You could compile a small glossary of all the slang expressions used to describe the plate ump's routine blowing of calls. And most were common before we had the K-zone box. Most also imply that the ump has his own personal strike zone ("he's not giving the high strike tonight" etc.) and the pitcher (and catcher) have to comply with him. But it is the ump's job to enforce the rule book. Why not simply call the personal strike zone what it is. Crooked. If the media routinely stated that so-and-so's strike zone "was crooked tonight", even Manfred (who is turning out to be Selig 2) might wake up.

allan said...

Or: "It would appear that the umpire has decided to ignore the rule book tonight and is deciding, whether through personal whim or incompetence, to change the rules of the game batter by batter." Okay, that might be a little strong! (But it's accurate.)

Even last night, Eck expressed strong annoyance at Marquez's blown calls, but did not really call him out or question his professionalism. It seems you can bash a player or maybe a manager (sort of*), but speaking the truth about an umpire is clearly taboo.

* Like OB and Eck or Remy still cannot fathom Showalter's non-use of Britton last fall, and will say it is mystifying, but they will still refer to him as one of the best managers in baseball and insist he absolutely knows how to handle a bullpen. Even when they have just given overpowering evidence that he does not know how.

The list (a good idea) would include how veteran pitchers get an expanded strike zone if a rookie is batting and, vice versa, how the strike zone shrinks when a new player faces an old-timer.

Also, if a pitcher consistently just misses the strike zone, he may find that he starts getting those pitches called strikes because he is "consistent". In other words, the umpire is saying "Because you are missing the strike zone over and over, I'm going to change the rules and make those strikes for you - but just for today."

Or if a pitcher gets wild, and then throws a strike, it has to be pretty much down the middle to actually be called a strike. If he throws a perfect unhittable pitch on the corner, it won't be called a strike, because he had been wild before.

Announcers say these things all the time and fans hear them - and everyone accepts them. No one stops and says ... wait a minute.