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Pace of play? The Diamondbacks and Rockies hold the longest 9-inning game in National League history

3dclocksYou don’t hear about pace of play this season as much as you did when the new rules to speed up baseball games were instituted in 2015. But don’t be mistaken; it remains one of commissioner Rob Manfred’s top initiatives.  And frankly, he’s fighting a losing battle right now.

Game times are up in 2016, surpassing the dreaded three-hour mark as of mid-May. The biggest culprit? There’s just more of stuff. More pitches, more walks, more strikeouts and more balls staying out of play. Those add up, and you had the perfect storm Friday night when the Rockies hosted the Diamondbacks.

It took 4 fours and 30 minutes for the D’Backs to pull off the 10-9 comeback victory. The game time bested a 15-year National League record for longest nine-inning game by 3 minutes. The previous record-holder was a Dodgers-Giants tilt from 2001.

This one had all the ingredients for a extraordinarily long game: 19 runs; 30 hits; 13 walks; 16 strikeouts (eh, that’s not too bad); six mid-inning pitching changes (serenity now!).

As pointed out by the Rockies’ SB Nation blog, Purple Row, the teams combined for 46 at-bats with runners in scoring position. That is pretty amazing to fathom but easy to understand when you see that there were 12 doubles (tied for the most in a game this year), six stolen bases, five errors, three wild pitches, two balks and all of those damn walks. There were actually 60 plate appearances with runners in scoring position, and imagine how much longer this game would have lasted if the teams had hit better than .196 in those RISP situations.

I never want to complain about game times; my life is always better at the ballpark. But it’s games like this one that make Manfred tear out what’s remaining of his hair. Moreover, there’s really nothing he can do to stop these types of games from occurring. For all of his rules and suggestions, he can’t force pitchers to throw strikes. He can’t stop fielders from booting balls. He can’t stop hitters from taking so many pitches. Like the fans, he just has to sit there and wait for the game to, at some point, end.

Matt Albers: Laser show

gettyimages-537081332-e1464820646317I have a certain affinity for Matt Albers, mostly because he is the closest thing I have to a doppelganger in today’s game. His every-man body, the way his jersey sags on him … that could be me out there! I mean, if I could throw a mid-90s fastball with sink or had strong legs or could walk. Oh, whom am I kidding? Compared to me, Matt Albers is this generation’s Jim Thorpe.

Albers will also assuredly be forgotten by most baseball fans shortly after he retires. He has played for six teams in 11 mostly nondescript seasons. He hasn’t started a game since 2007, doesn’t have a save to his credit and doesn’t throw extraordinarily hard. Nothing about him is exciting. In a line of work where you have to be pretty special just to make it to this level, Albers is all parts ordinary nonetheless.

However, he accomplished something Thursday that I and many others who adore quirky baseball will remember. In the 13th inning of Wednesday’s game versus the Mets, Albers led off the inning by rocketing a double to left-center field.

Let’s stop there for a moment. Matt Albers doubled. A well-hit, opposite-field, honest-to-goodness double. Well, it would have been reduced to a single with Albers being thrown out at second base if Neil Walker hadn’t been there to act as Albers’ personal backstop. He definitely would have fallen off the bag if no one had been there to help him slow down all of that momentum.

Regardless, it was Albers’ first hit and only second at-bat since 2007, when he was with the Astros (He has made all but eight of his appearances since then with American League clubs). AL relievers roping out extra-base hits isn’t as rare as I imagined, as the last person to do it was the Yankees’ Branden Pinder just last year. It has happened five times in the past decade.

With this kind of odd feat, there are so many angles you can cover, but let’s just go way down the rabbit hole. After his double, Albers moved to third on a wild pitch, scored on a Jose Abreu sac fly, and then went on to close out the game in the bottom of the 13th. So who was the last American League relief pitcher to score a game-winning run in extra innings and get the win? 

That would be Ryan Hancock for the 1996 California Angels. He singled with one out in the 13th inning and scored on J.T. Snow’s two-run homer off of Julian Tavarez as the Angels beat the Indians, 8-6. While you probably won’t remember Albers, you definitely don’t know who Ryan Hancock is, unless you share a blood relation.

That’s because 1996 was Hancock’s only MLB season. He had a 7.48 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP over 11 appearances. But on the bright side, he had only one career plate appearance, so Hancock will forever own a 1.000 average and a 2.000 OPS. 

Before Hancock, you have to go back, understandably, to Sparky Lyle in 1972 to find the last pitcher who achieved the hit-run-win trifecta in extras. One year later, the DH was upon us, and AL pitchers becoming offensive heroes have been rarely seen in the wild. Thank you, Matt Albers

Sunday was all about crazy comebacks in baseball

April 24, 2016 Leave a comment
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Movie, good. Baseball, better.

I saw “The Jungle Book” today. Very entertaining. Even with so many of today’s movies being overwhelmed by computer graphics, the CGI in this movie is outstanding. If there is a criticism, it’s that, other than the wolf pack and a couple others in the forest, there seems to be only one of each animal. One panther. One tiger. One snake. One bear. Forget about the one human boy among the wild; someone needs to investigate what befell so many of the species in this ecosystem.

But that’s all I did Sunday. Otherwise, I relaxed and watched some baseball. However, it’s difficult to relax when you are on the edge of your seat, and that’s where a handful of games put me. There were some wholeheartedly “good” games — Mets-Braves, Cardinals-Padres and Marlins-Giants were all tense late — but four games specifically turned this lazy Sunday into a crazy one.

Let’s start chronologically and with perhaps the wildest game of the bunch: Twins-Nationals. Stephen Strasburg was the story for the first seven innings. But in the eighth, he challenged Brian Dozier with one too many fastballs, and Dozier sent Strasburg’s 114th and final pitch way out for a three-run homer that gave Minnesota a 4-1 lead.

The Nats got two runs back in the bottom of the eighth. Then in the ninth, Dusty Baker made a brilliant managerial move: He sent Bryce Harper to the plate. What a strategy.

Harper had been given the day off, but in a one-run game, it was time for him to get involved.

Harper took a couple of hacks that made it known he wants to hit this ball into the Atlantic. I’m not sure why Kevin Jepsen gave him the chance — so what if you walk Bryce Harper? Throw it out of the zone, for goodness sake — but his low fastball wasn’t low enough. Unless you’re a Twins fan, click here to feel all the chills.

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