News, Notes and Quotes (April 19, 2004)

Game Over vs. Superman

I saw one of the best at-bats in my dozen or so years as a baseball fan Friday night.

Los Angeles at San Francisco. One out. Bottom of the 9th. Dodgers up 3-0. Runner on first base.

At the plate? The greatest hitter of this generation, Barry Bonds. On the mound? Inning for inning, the best pitcher on the planet, Eric Gagne. It just doesn’t get much better.

The beauty of it is that Bonds wasn’t even the tying run, so I got the feeling Gagne wanted to challenge him a little bit. After all, if Barry goes deep, it’s still a 3-2 Los Angeles lead.

Incidentally, Bonds came into the at-bat 3-for-15 lifetime (with five strikeouts and zero homers) against Gagne.

0-0 Pitch: 96 MPH fastball.
— Bonds fouls it off, a dribbler along the first base line.

0-1 Pitch: 98 MPH fastball.
— In tight on Bonds, called strike. Essentially a perfect pitch, right under the hands and tailing back over the plate.

0-2 Pitch: 73 MPH curveball.
— Just off the outside corner for a ball. He nearly caught Bonds looking and if it was a mere mortal at the plate, it may have been strike three.

1-2 Pitch: 96 MPH fastball.
— Up and in under the hands for a ball.

2-2 Pitch: 98 MPH fastball.
— Up and over the plate. Fouled straight back by Bonds.

2-2 Pitch: 99 MPH fastball.
— Inside, Bonds pulls it about 500 feet, but way foul down the right field line and into McCovey Cove. Yeah, that’s right, Gagne threw a 99 MPH fastball inside with two strikes and Bonds destroyed it, but was too early. Incidentally, Gagne shook off the changeup on this pitch.

2-2 Pitch: 100 MPH fastball.
— Right over the heart of the plate. Bonds puts a picture-perfect swing on the ball and blasts a line drive over the fence in straight away center field. Career home run #662.

On successive pitches, both with two strikes, Bonds ripped the hell out of a 99 MPH fastball and a 100 MPH fastball from the best pitcher on the planet.

Unfortunately for the Giants, they have but one Barry Bonds to throw up there against Eric Gagne. On the very next pitch, Gagne threw a changeup that Pedro Feliz missed by 10 feet. He could have swung twice and still been too early. Gagne went on to retire Feliz and Edgardo Alfonzo to save the 3-2 victory for the Dodgers.

I guarantee I will remember those seven pitches for the rest of my life, and that’s the beauty of baseball.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Bonds had himself a decent little three-game series against the Dodgers. He went 6-for-9 with four homers, eight RBIs and a 2.111 slugging percentage. He also walked three times and got on base at a .750 clip.

On Friday, I discussed the possibility of Bonds making a run at .400. After his amazing performance against the Dodgers, he is currently batting .500, with 17 hits in 34 at-bats. For those of you who don’t remember, Bonds has hit .397 in the second-half over the past two years.

Numbers that make Barry Bonds blush

Anyone remember Calvin Pickering? Once upon a time, he was one of the better hitting prospects in all of baseball.

Pickering made his pro debut as a 19-year-old in 1995 and hit .500 in 15 games. He played rookie-ball the next year, hitting .325 with 18 homers in 60 games. Pickering moved up to Single-A in 1997 and hit .311 with 25 homers and 31 doubles in 122 games.

In 1998, he made the jump to Double-A and continued to mash, hitting .309 with 31 homers and 28 doubles in 139 games. He also improved his plate discipline greatly, walking 98 times, compared to just 53 the previous year. Pickering got a brief cup of coffee as a 21-year-old with the Orioles, and hit .238 with two homers in 21 at-bats.

Since then, Pickering has bounced around a lot. He did well at Triple-A in 1999 and then really struggled in another stint with Baltimore. Then, in 2000, he struggled at Triple-A, hitting just .218. Baltimore cut him loose and he was picked up first by the Reds and then by the Red Sox. After very brief stints with them, he disappeared for a while.

Pickering popped up in the Mexican League last year and hit .323/.463/.625 with 25 homers in 88 games. The Reds signed him again and Pickering batted .284/.422/.469 for them at Triple-A to finish the year.

This year, Pickering is with the Royals, playing at Triple-A Omaha. What’s he’s done there thus far is simply amazing. Through nine games, Pickering is batting .500/.595/1.607. He has 10 home runs, 23 RBIs and 45 total bases in just 28 at-bats.

To put his numbers into proper perspective, this is what they would look like, prorated to a 155-game schedule:

  G      AB      AVG      OBP      SLG     2B     HR     RBI     RUN
155     482     .500     .595    1.607     17    172     396     189

That’s right, he’s on pace for 172 home runs and 396 RBIs. Only 17 doubles though, he should probably work on that.

As if that weren’t amazing enough, chew on this for a moment: Pickering could go 0-for-50 and he would still be slugging .577.

Unfortunately for Pickering, he picked the wrong organization to do this for. The Royals already have 1B/DH options that include Mike Sweeney, Ken Harvey and Matt Stairs. In fact, if Stairs weren’t around, Harvey and Pickering could make a pretty good platoon that might be the largest in major league history. Harvey, apparently convincing people to go by his birth weight, is listed at 240 pounds. I haven’t seen what Pickering is listed at this year, but he’s usually not too far from three bills.

I’d almost like to see Pickering stay at Triple-A all year, just to see what he could do over the course of the entire season. But really, he is a guy who should be playing for a major league team. Whether as a DH or a first baseman or just an awesome pinch-hitter, someone needs to call Allard Baird and see what it would take to get Big Cal.

The amazing thing about Pickering is that, despite all his bouncing around and weight problems and attitude problems and whatever else he’s gone through already, he is still just 27 years old. That’s only a year older than Ken Harvey.

Hi, Doctor Andrews? Yes, this is Kerry. I’d like to schedule something for June.

On Saturday afternoon, Kerry Wood was dominating the Cincinnati Reds. Through eight innings, he had given up just a lone run on four hits, and he had six strikeouts. He also had thrown 112 pitches and this was, after all, just Chicago’s 11th game of the season.

Chicago took a 2-1 lead into the top of the 9th inning. Their closer, Joe Borowski, threw 23 pitches the day before, his only appearance in five days. Their outstanding setup man, Latroy Hawkins, last threw a pitch on Thursday. Two pitches to be exact, because that’s all he needed to get his one out.

Certainly Borowski could have pitched on back-to-back days, and 23 pitches is not an extraordinary amount to have thrown the day before. And, if that wasn’t an option, Hawkins definitely could have come in after having Friday off following a two-pitch stint on Thursday.

But true to form, Dusty Baker sent Wood out to pitch the 9th. He was likely thinking lovely thoughts about how pitchers should “finish what they start” and other such things.

Sean Casey led off the inning and singled up the middle on the fifth pitch he saw. Runner on first, Wood at 117 pitches.

Adam Dunn walked on six pitches. Runners on first and second, Wood at 123 pitches.

It would be at this point that you would assume, even as crazy as Baker can get when it comes to pitch counts and leaving his starters in, he would pull Wood. He’s getting in trouble, the tying run is in scoring position and the go-ahead run is on base, and Wood is now up over 120 pitches. Of course, Baker left Wood in.

Ryan Freel laid down a sacrifice bunt on the very first pitch he saw. Runners on second and third, Wood at 124 pitches.

Jason LaRue flied out to left field on the second pitch. The runner on third tagged and scored. Tie game. Runner on second, Wood at 126 pitches.

Wily Mo Pena singled to center on the fifth pitch he saw, scoring the runner from second. 3-2 Reds. Runner on first, Wood at 131 pitches.

Baker finally pulled Wood out of the game, at which point Wood starting yelling at the homeplate umpire. Wood felt he received a bad call earlier in the inning. Interestingly, I may have been more perturbed at my manager if I was Wood. After all, I had just been left in to not only give up the lead and ruin a very good start, but I had just been allowed to throw 131 pitches in a game on April 17.

Now, Wood may very well never get injured. Or injured again, I should say, since he already had his elbow blow up on him once. But really, what is the point? Is it really at all necessary for Wood to throw 131 pitches in the 11th game on the season? Is it really going to help his confidence that much to finish the game? Is it really smart to let him start an inning with 112 pitches?

And this isn’t some 20-20 hindsight thinking on my part. I watched the game on TV and also tracked it on CBS Sportsline’s online play-by-play, which updates after every pitch. I sat there shaking my head the entire time, as Wood’s pitch count just kept creeping up and over 130.

I just don’t understand the thinking that goes into a managerial decision like that. Of course, I also didn’t understand the thinking that went into allowing Mark Prior to throw 116 pitches in a playoff game that was a 12-2 blowout in the 6th inning, so what do I know?

I would consider Dusty Baker a good manager. I know it might not seem possible after what I just said, but I think it is similar to saying someone like Ichiro! is a good hitter. Baker doesn’t excel at every aspect of the game (like lineup choices and playing time distribution) and he’s actually downright horrible at some things (like anything having to do with counting the number of pitches someone throws).

Similarly, Ichiro! doesn’t excel at every aspect of hitting (like drawing walks) and he’s actually downright terrible when it comes to something like hitting for power, but that doesn’t preclude him from being very good, overall. It’s the total package that counts for a manager or a player. I’m just hoping Dusty will still have some pitchers to manage in the second-half.

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