The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Friday, April 06, 2007

 

Open Season (Part I)

It was often said that Manny Mota could roll out of bed on Christmas Day and get a base hit. On Monday, I discovered that I could roll out of bed on Opening Day and do coherent radio for a couple hours, ten minutes at a time. From 7:30 AM until just before 10:00, I did a series of nine radio hits all around the country with various Fox News Radio affiliates who wanted to discuss the new season with a Baseball Prospectus author.

Amped on half a pot of coffee, I talked baseball with WTAM in Cleveland, WERC in Birmingham, Alabama, WILS in Lansing, Michigan, WOOD in Grand Rapids, Michigan, WLOB in Portland, Maine, WGST in Atlanta, WOAI in San Antonio, KODY in North Platte, Nebraska, KVI in Seattle. No sooner would one call end than I'd be picking up the phone for the next one, talking about how I like Oliver Perez at the back end of the Mets rotation, think the Mariners made two of the worst trades this winter, and can't wait to watch Daisuke Matsuzaka. It was exhilarating, and between all of the other radio and promotional appearances I've done this spring plus my preseason predictions and the debut of this year's Hit List, not the least bit intimidating. For every team and every division, I had my talking points down cold. It felt like connecting with batting practice fastballs once you've gotten the timing down. I was in the zone. And oddly enough, I even heard from a couple of long-forgotten college classmates around the country who just happened to tune in at that moment and then decided to drop me a line.

Most importantly, the 2007 baseball season is upon us. Plugging away at my final Fantasy Baseball Index spring update, I didn't have the luxury of sitting still to watch either Sunday night's Mets-Cardinals affair or Monday's Yankee opener, but the magic of TiVo allowed me to get the gist of both. On Tuesday I made my first foray into MLB.tv's Mosaic, as it appeared that would be the only way to see out-of-market ballgames this year; I watched the Dodgers cough up a 3-2 lead on Kevin Mench's two-run homer, and sampled a few other games from the West Coast, impressed at the software's integration with the Mac OS X platform but exasperated by the glitchy sound cutouts and the between-innings Pong bleeps.

I didn't get to see any baseball Wednesday night; instead I went out to see Steven Goldman and Jonah Keri read at the Gelf Magazine Varsity Letters series, where both deviated from the script to read something a bit less... Prospectus-y than BP07 and Baseball Between the Numbers. Steve read some passages from Forging Genius, including my suggestion of the story where Casey Stengel, manager of the Worcester franchise in the Eastern League, sent a letter to Charles D. Stengel, club president of said franchise, requesting that he be freed from his contract so that he could take a better job with the Toledo Mud Hens; president Stengel wrote back, acceding to the manager's surprising request. Jonah read his farewell to the Expos piece from BP as well as a segment from BBTN on Derek Jeter's defense. Also speaking were Cor van den Heuvel, who in three seperate (and somewhat interminable) interludes offered a number of baseball haiku, and Curt Smith, who read from The Voice, his biography of Mel Allen, the famed voice of the Yankees and "This Week in Baseball," making a case for Allen as the greatest sports announcer of all time (my nickel goes to Vin Scully on that score, but I'll grant that Smith may have a point). Afterwards, accompanied by Derek Jacques and Jonah's friend Dave, we went out to dinner, and en route, Derek received an email from a BP colleague telling us the wonderful news: MLB and In Demand struck a deal to keep the Extra Innings package on cable TV.

That happy news meant that on Thursday afternoon, free from deadlines for the first time since, like, October (yes, I made it through an entire offseason gainfully employed from baseball writing, how about that?), I was free to kick back with the Extra Innings showing of Matsuzaka's major league debut against the Royals, with a compelling pitcher on the other end, too: Zack Greinke, making his first big-league start since September 2005 after missing most of last season due to what was termed a social anxiety disorder. For seven innings this turned out to be a hell of a pitcher's duel, though the 36-degree weather and ump Jeff Nelson's wide strike zone had something to do with that.

The Sox scratched out a run in the top of the first against Greinke, with Manny Ramirez doubling home Kevin Youkilis. But even then, Greinke looked promising; the double was sandwiched by backwards-K strikeouts of both David Ortiz and J.D. Drew, with Big Papi especially stunned. Matsuzaka, after surrendering a leadoff single to David DeJesus and then his only walk of the afternoon, needed a double play to escape the first unscathed. He got his first major-league strikeout on a 94-MPH fastball that fooled Ross Gload to end the second, and wound up ringing up 10 hitters, including the entire side in the fourth on a mere 14 pitches.

Matsuzaka's motion (dissected by Will Carroll over at MLB.com) was interesting, featuring a pause at the top of his windup that was noticeable but less pronounced than, say, Hideo Nomo. He went as high as 95 on the gun, but changed speeds effectively with a changeup, a splitter, and three or four breaking pitches, one of which may have been the fabled gyroball (the New York Sun's Tim Marchman does a nice job of describing his repertoire). Sick stuff that will give hitters fits this year, guaranteed.

Greinke, in a heartening comeback, struck out seven himself, including Ortiz twice more (once looking, once half-assedly swinging). But his defense let him down in the fifth, as the Sox doubled their lead when Julio Lugo doubled, stole third, and scored on a throwing error by John Buck. The Royals didn't score in the bottom of the inning, but K.C. phenom third baseman Alex Gordon led off the frame with his first major-league hit, a sharp single to leftfield. They got on the board in the sixth when DeJesus led off the inning with a solo homer to rightfield, and they should have tied the game shortly after. Esteban German singled to follow DeJesus, and then was thrown out at the back end of a strikeout-throwout double play -- which was immediately followed by an Emil Brown double that shoulda coulda woulda tied the game. Gordon struck out looking to end the frame, and that was that. The lines for the two starters wound up looking impressively similar:
        IP  H  R ER BB  SO  NP-St
Dice-K 7 6 1 1 1 10 108-74
Greinke 7 8 2 1 1 7 101-64
With Greinke done for the day, Royals reliever Joel Peralta instantly surrendered two runs in the eighth, and Boston's Jonathan Papelbon came on to close the door in the ninth, more or less completing the checklist of what to watch for. Not too bad for a Thursday afternoon.

(to be continued)

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