By Jason Wojciechowski on August 10, 2011 at 7:45 AM
It has been a week since I have given you, dear reader, an overlong account of a baseball contest. I hope I am not rusty.
Rich Harden! Harden was a little shaky to start, just missing giving up a lot more runs than the one he did give up (on an Edwin Encarnacion homer) by hanging changeups to hitters like Jose Bautista (who crushed one about 700 feet, but just foul -- to Harden's credit, the little suppressed smile he had on the mound after the pitch indicated that he knew he got away with something). He settled down through the middle innings before ending up with runners on the corners and nobody out in the seventh after a leadoff four-pitch walk to Encarnacion. A popup and two whiffs (including one on Brett Lawrie) later, though, he was out of the inning and able to hand the game to the bullpen to take it all the way home.
On offense, the A's did it with the long ball, not terribly appropriately to the team, but definitely in keeping with the home park, which, per StatCorner, inflates homers by about 15% from both sides of the plate. Josh Willingham hit a two-runner in the sixth to turn the game from 1-0 to 2-1, then Kurt Suzuki hit a hanging slider or change from Brett Cecil to the second deck in left leading off the seventh.
Oakland put an insurance run across against Luis Perez and Shawn Camp in the ninth (HBP, bunt single, ground ball single), and that was that.
The A's can feel fortunate having escaped with the win, though not the usual way -- typically, an opposing team leaves a bunch of runners on base or something, and the winning squad says "we really escaped some jams." In this case, Rich Harden could've given up about four homers, but the Jays managed only the one, improbably enough.
|Willingham (LF)||4||2||HBP, HR|
|Suzuki (C)||4||2||1B, HR|
|Sweeney (CF)||4||2||BB, 1B|
Jemile Weeks hit a soft liner down the left-field line in the third for a single, and took second on the throw to third when Eric Thames (I hope I got the right Thames) thought he could get Scott Sizemore, who made it in without a play. It was an ill-advised throw, but it cost the Jays nothing, as Cliff Pennington struck out to end the inning.
Per Baseball Prospectus's Equivalent Baserunning Runs, Weeks has been worth about 1.2 runs above average on advancing on ground balls, fly balls, hits, and "other" -- i.e. on everything but steals. Unfortunately, getting caught six times in eighteen steal attempts isn't a good thing, so he's cost half a run there, but still: it's nice to see some numerical verification that Weeks is mostly using his speed for the forces of good.
Cliff Pennington's single was a solid liner to center.
Hideki Matsui was behind in the count nearly all game, and his box score line suffers for it. He never came particularly close to a hit. His first-inning routine fly out to Colby Rasmus in center was the best thing he did.
After throwing what looked like entirely fastballs in the first inning,1 Brett Cecil went slow and junky to Josh Willingham to lead off the second, throwing a markedly different mix of pitches. It worked, too, as he wound up with a swinging strikeout, albeit on a pitch Willingham should have taken for ball four.
In the sixth, though, Cecil hung an off-speed pitch on the outer part of the plate. Josh Willingham, of all the A's, knows what to do with a hung off-speed pitch, and deposited the ball into the Blue Jay bullpen beyond left field. It wasn't crushed, by any means, but it looked like it was hit pretty hard -- it just had more line drive in it than deep fly.
Hit Tracker, for instance, says that Willingham and Kurt Suzuki's homers, despite Suzuki's landing in the second deck, had the same true distance (389 feet). The difference was the vertical angle off the bat, with Suzuki's coming off about ten degrees higher. Despite similar speeds off the bat and the same distance, that angle, along with the fact that he hit the ball more down the line that Willingham hit his (i.e. to a less deep part of the park), is what turned Suzuki's shot into a no-doubter while Willingham's had just enough. (I'm not just talking here -- these are the actual classifications of the homers from Hit Tracker.)
Conor Jackson got to 3-0 and 3-1 on Cecil in the fourth, but could only hit a shallow pop up to Jose Bautista in right. I don't remember the at-bat specifically, but I'm sure he took a mighty swing, especially after he almost killed himself swinging through a fastball in the first inning, spinning himself across the plate and into the opposite batter's box. He managed to not fall down, but still: he sure carried a long way.
Note: those swings have produced a .263 TAv so far this year, i.e. almost exactly league average given the context. That's not great for a first baseman who takes Ruthian cuts.
David DeJesus's shining moment was scoring from second without a throw on Ryan Sweeney's ground ball single up the middle in the ninth. Well done, small outfielder.
I've already talked about Suzuki's homer, so what's left is his ninth-inning bunt single against Shawn Camp. Suzuki's a catcher, so he'll always have the third baseman back if this is a play he wants to try. It's unlikely he could execute it any better than he did on this play, though, holding back until the last second to not give the defense any warning and dropping a beauty down the third base line -- it was a few feet fair, which I'd rather see than the typical "what a beautiful bunt!" play that rolls right down the chalk. There's too much luck in whether a bunt like that stays fair, whether it hits a divot from a cleat or the baseline is angled in or out.
Ryan Sweeney should have been doubled off first in the fifth inning when Scott Sizemore hit a soft liner that looked like a sure single until Yunel Escobar made a perfectly timed leap to stab it out of the air. Escobar did a 180 as he caught it, though, so he landed with his back to the infield. Still, had he turned around to see where Sweeney was (well off the bag) instead of strutting and feeling happy for himself, the Jays would've made two outs for the price of one.
I believe that Sweeney's hit in the 9th, a hard grounder up the middle, was what A's fans on the internet have been calling a "swingle"?
I've mentioned everyone else, so: Scott Sizemore's walk came on seven pitches. There.
Josh Willingham nearly hit a homer and robbed one, as Edwin Encarnacion's "shot" in the second was just out of his reach in left field. The walls in Toronto are high, so Willingham's stubby legs doomed him.
Willingham also kept Encarnacion to a single on a hard fly/liner over his head in the fourth -- the ball hit the base of the wall and came straight back to him with some force, so he was lucky in that regard, but he barehanded well, spun, and threw a strike back to the infield. Encarnacion, who was assuming double, had to put on the brakes and head back to first when he saw the play unfold. It's not enough to make Willingham a good outfielder, but he's not entirely incompetent out there, either -- his limitations are more athletic than judgment-oriented.
Jemile Weeks made a nice play on a double-play in the third, as Jose Bautista hit a grounder back to the mound. Rich Harden turned and threw, leading Weeks to the bag, but putting the ball a little too far onto the left field side and a tiny bit up. Weeks jumped, though, caught the ball, and came down with his back foot on the bag. Pushing off, he left his feet again, executing a jump-throw to first that didn't have much on it but was still in plenty of time to get Jose Bautista, who's not a speedster. He's fun to watch, this Weeks kid.
I've already noted that Rich Harden got a little fortunate with some hanging changeups, but he was quite good otherwise, as his line shows. Fifteen flies on seventeen balls in play ("in play," again, on this site, includes the home run) is remarkable, and not in a good way, but the eight strikeouts, sixteen swinging strikes, and high strike percentage are all quite nice.
Harden's best inning was the sixth, when he struck out Eric Thames, Jose Bautista, and Adam Lind, all swinging, and all on different pitches (high fastball, change in the dirt away, change down and in). The two whiffs to end the seventh, with runners on the corners, had Harden justifiably pumped up, exclaiming as he left the mound, which isn't something you see him do very often.
Grant Balfour gave up a double to Eric Thames and Adam Lind's fly ball to end the frame was struck fairly well, but he was not in any real danger of giving up the lead.
Andrew Bailey granted Edwin Encarnacion a four-pitch walk and went to a full count on Colby Rasmus, but he also, especially given a three-run lead, was not truly putting the victory in peril.
My pro forma dissent against Melvin's wacky batting order must be put on record -- batting Cliff Pennington second and Scott Sizemore ninth is weird in normal times, but against a lefty? Lefties are who Sizemore was put on this earth to mash.
My other pro forma dissent: the game was pretty by the books, though it nearly wasn't -- in the seventh, with Rich Harden in trouble, Melvin had Brian Fuentes and Fautino de los Santos warming. This is because Grant Balfour is The Eighth-Inning Guy, I guess, but it's still stupid. Had Harden needed to come out, it would've been because the Blue Jays cut the lead to one or even tied the game. With runners on and a tie or close game, why would you go to anyone except your best reliever?
Blue Jays fans, I know you're excited about Brett Lawrie, but please don't get so excited and jump to your feet screaming the next time he hits a fly ball that turns out to go only 275 feet.
The ads behind home plate were white far too often, so the ball, especially when pitched by the lefty Cecil, would get lost in the ad, making it even more difficult than usual for me to decide what kind of slop Cecil was throwing. I would ask that Toronto please only use dark ads behind the plate, if they would. Thanks! ↩