Missed Call: the Bin’s weekly roundup of the things you might have missed this week in baseball.
Week 1: Opening Week
Sunday, April 5
The 2015 baseball season began Sunday night when the Cardinals faced the Cubs at cold and windy Wrigley Field. Wrigley’s makeover isn’t finished and the Cubs’ best player is in the minors. The lines for the bathroom were the stuff of legend.
Chicago starter Jon Lester dealt with a dead arm in spring training and did not feature his best stuff Sunday night. Curt Schilling told ESPN’s national audience that Lester has the yips about throwing to the bases. Maybe he does! The Cardinals certainly thought so. They were on base in every inning but the sixth. They stole four, including a double steal in the fifth that effectively ended Lester’s night.
Jason Heyward, brand new Cardinals right fielder, went 3-for-5 with a run scored and was part of the double steal. You can bet he came away from Sunday’s game thinking, “Wow! Being a Cardinal is fun!” (Or something to that effect.)
Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright looked really good, and so did the Cubs bullpen. You know Lester will be fine. He’s nails. The Cubs offense, on the other hand, went 0-for-13 with runners in scoring position and struck out 12 times. Good grief, Charlie Brown!
Monday, April 6
Opening Day came with its usual treats. Tigers ace David Price pitched an 8 2/3-inning shutout against the Twins with the help of two eye-popping defensive plays by second baseman Ian Kinsler and left fielder Yoenis Cespedes. (He also got some help from the Twins, who didn’t score a run until Thursday.)
In his first regular-season at bat with his new team, Ben Zobrist of the Oakland Athletics hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning. But in the top of the sixth, he made a defensive error in left field, dropping an easy catch. Nobody scored, and the A’s shut out the Rangers in spectacular style, but that’s beside the point. There’s a natural order to things in baseball. First you blow an easy play, and then you redeem yourself with a home run. Zobrist got it reversed!
In Seattle, King Felix pitched on his eighth straight opening day and struck out 10 Angels. Hernandez is undefeated on opening day. (He’s really good the rest of the time too.) With help from the Mariners bullpen, the Angels offense looked frozen in place. Not so in the next two games, when the Angels outscored the Mariners seven runs to three, and won the series.
Wednesday, April 8
Some pretty wonderful things happened on Wednesday, and if you follow baseball, you probably noticed them too. Adrian Gonzalez, Dodgers first baseman, hit three home runs as the Dodgers hosted the Padres in the opening series. This feat brought Gonzalez to five home runs in the first three games of the season. He's the first in the history of baseball to do that!
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols hit home run number 521 in the first inning, against Mariners starter Hisashi Iwakuma. Pujols is now tied with Ted Williams, Frank Thomas, and Willie McCovey for number 18 on the all-time home run list.
For those of us looking to make a big splash of our own, the lesson here is consistency. Pujols didn’t hit those 521 bombs all at once. He put up that incredible number one bomb at a time.
Thursday, April 9
Matt Harvey returned to the mound after a break of 593 days to lead the Mets to a 6-3 win over the Nationals. Matt Harvey is so good. He's the guy you call in sick to watch. He controls the location and speed of sliders, fastballs, and curveballs while appearing entirely effortless. Pitches do everything he tells them to do. Batters cannot wait for the pitch they like. Harvey can play with his pitches when there’s room in the count, but he can throw exactly what’s needed in a hitter’s count. He struck out five of the first 10 batters he faced. That’s half of them!
By contrast, Nationals strike-out machine Stephen Strasburg struggled, not striking anyone out until the third and only after walking two and hitting Lucas Duda on the big toe. Shortstop Ian Desmond made an error in the third inning that allowed the Mets to score four runs, three unearned. It was a weird hop on a tough play, but Strasburg clearly needed a double play, just to turn the page and try to come out with better stuff.
Guys like Desmond and Strasburg need to be better, but who is going to pick them up, if not the fans? C’mon Nationals fans, where are you? Your team is really good! Attendance at this game was only 25,327, and a bunch of those present were Mets fans. I noticed they were not drowned out by home fans when they cheered for Matt Harvey. It made me a little sad.
Over in Houston, the Indians almost no-hit the Astros, beginning with starter Trevor Bauer who struck out eleven in six. Oh, that’s impressive to be sure, but he needed 111 pitches to do it. That was a bit painful to watch.
The best game of the day happened in San Diego. The Giants and Padres were scoreless in the seventh but the Padres were threatening with one out and men on the corners. But Giants reliever Jeremy Affeldt induced a ground ball double-play to end the inning, needing only three pitches to do it. That is trademark Affeldt.
An impressive battle of the bullpens ensued. The two teams remained scoreless until the twelfth inning when Giants right fielder Justin Maxwell singled into shallow center, driving Brandon Crawford home from second. That was the only run of the game, and it was all the Giants needed to win.
Scoreless games are the best. Even the most routine plays acquire ultimate significance, for players and fans alike. There were a lot of good stories in this game, but the best by far involved Giants third baseman Casey McGehee.
McGehee gave the San Fran fans four reasons to miss their Panda. The first two came with his errors, one fielding and one throwing. He also got himself caught stealing. Then he grounded into a double play to end the ninth, stranding Angel Pagan at third. Oh, I was feeling for the guy. This was turning into goat territory. But then McGehee cleaned the slate in the bottom of the tenth with a sharp leap to his left – using agility far beyond his years – to knock Matt Kemp’s hard-hit line drive to the ground. That held Kemp to a single and prevented the Padres scoring. McGehee saved the game, and I forgave him on the spot.
Besides, I love redemption stories. Baseball is a game of second chances. But "second" is ordinal. You have to follow the natural order of things. I mean, screw up before you do something wonderful. (Ben Zobrist, we’re looking at you!)
Is it important to make a strong start in April? Yes! And it’s a pretty level playing field. Pitchers and hitters are still working out the kinks. Defensive mistakes are common. The balls are too cold to fly. Everyone is transitioning, physically and mentally, from spring training to the regular season. So everyone can win. It’s a great time to make a good start.
You can win in April when you capitalize on your opponents’ mistakes.
Choose Your Weekend Series
I’ll be watching the 3-0 Kansas City Royals, last year’s American League champions, play the Angels in Los Angeles. The Angels finished last year with the best record in baseball, but the Royals swept them in the division series. Surely the Angels are still a bit irked and are looking for some revenge. These two teams have started the season with energy and confidence, and between them they have some of the most electrifying players in the game. This should be good.