I’m not looking to start an argument here about thankless jobs. I know a lot of people who would give just about anything to get paid to watch a ballgame. This isn’t about that. But when it comes to people in a baseball press box during a game, the official scorer has one of the more thankless jobs.
The pay is nice, but it’s not like you can make a living doing it. Above all, people do it because they love baseball. They’re generally good at scoring games, and they’re very good at remembering the scoring rules, because there are a lot of them. And if they’re good, they’re able to take the rules that they read and apply them to what they see on the field. But they generally don’t get a lot of credit for it.
Which brings us to Saturday’s game.
I’ve never heard a crowd react to a call as loudly, or as immediately, as they did to Ron Kleinfelter’s call that Brent Morel’s sixth-inning grounder was a hit rather than a Brandon Inge error. I mean, the words were barely out of his mouth when about 35,000 fans booed. I can’t imagine what that’s like, to hear that many people react at the same time, in the same place, to a decision you make. I have a nice, loyal Twitter following, and they’re only about one-seventh of that crowd size. Besides, you don’t hear noise on Twitter.
But here’s the thing: For all the second-guessing this call is going to get, it’s more of an interpretation than a decision. The borderline on a play like that is reasonable effort. And while we’ve all seen Inge make plays like that down the line often enough that it seems like an ordinary effort for him, I have a hard time calling that a reasonable effort for most third basemen. And that’s the criteria.
I look at the replay, and I see Inge make the stop with enough time to set his feet for a throw, but I don’t see him able to get his weight behind it. For a throw that far across the infield, that seems key.
Inge didn’t want to make an excuse, but he also hinted it was a factor.
“If you can plant there, you get all your weight transfer going, and then the ball comes out fine,” Inge said. “But when that back foot falls out, you have to use all arm, so then maybe it tails a little bit on you.”
When asked if that was the case, Inge said, “My foot slipped a little bit when I went to plant, and maybe that had something to do with it. But I don’t like using anything as an excuse. I still had plenty to get it over there. My aim was slightly off.”
Inge said third-base umpire Fieldin Culbreth told him just three third basemen he knew could make that play. Inge was one of them. But there’s a difference between could and should, and where Inge’s expectations lie compared to those of others.
“It’s not an average play,” he said, “but I should’ve made the play.”
And there’s the problem: It’s hard to call an above-average play an error if it isn’t made. I can think of some decidedly average third basemen in the big leagues, and I imagine you can, too. No need to name names, because that’s a whole other discussion. Now think: Could they make that play?
“It’s a fine line. I can imagine it’s tough on a scorer,” Inge said. “They do a pretty good job. I know I’m not helping them, saying what I’m saying, but I’m always going to be honest.”
Here’s another way to look at it: Take the situation out of it. Think of it in the first inning of a scoreless game, or the eighth inning of a 12-3 game. Don’t think of it with a no-hitter riding on it. If that’s called a hit, are you still disagreeing so strongly. Because like it or not, you can’t factor the game setting into the ruling. Some argued otherwise on Twitter, and I strongly disagree.
As for the call itself, I agree that it was a hit. I can understand those who say it should be an error, but the more I replays I watched, the more comfortable I feel about it being a hit.
Interesting point from Brandon Inge after Wednesday’s win when talking about the Rangers offense cooling off following its fast start over the previous nine games. He gave credit to the pitching staff, and he also gave credit to the ballpark.
To him, there’s a Comerica Park factor going on. And when you consider the home-road disparity that has been going on with this team since at least last year and maybe earlier, it’s worth consideration.
“These guys have been swinging hot bats,” Inge said. “This is where our ballpark plays in our favor a lot. A team like that coming in swinging hot bats, they had three or four balls hit in the last two or three games that probably would’ve been home runs in their ballpark, and that would’ve given them momentum and they would’ve just kept running the bases and putting runs up. But they don’t go out, and those guys now are scratching their heads when they come back in the dugout.
“Our pitchers have more confidence knowing they can go up in the zone and get outs, and you can see where the momentum transfers back over to us. A lot of people complain about this park, but it’s a big park, and both teams have to play in it.”
Ryan Raburn, of course, had the catch to take away a home run. Texas had a double off the right-field wall in the series opener and another that hit the wall on a hop. They had countless others that took Austin Jackson towards the warning track in center field.
The stats suggest this park plays pretty even over the course of a season. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest maybe this park plays a little diffferently before it warms up than it does during the summer.
As for both sides playing in it, Inge says he has talked with new Tiger Victor Martinez about the ballpark factor.
“Victor, he has hit a couple balls [that would’ve been out elsewhere],” Inge said. “But you know what, it’s not really a bad thing if you embrace it. Hopefully he’ll understand that coming into it. I’ve tried to talk to him a few times. I told him there’s a lot of RBIs to be had in these gaps right here. And that’s where we’re going to win ballgames.
“We’re not here for personal stats. No one should be here for personal stats. And if you get runners on base in this ballpark, and if you can swallow your pride and understand that your home run numbers are probably going to come down a little bit but you can get just as many RBIs by those gaps, it’s just a matter of understanding it and letting it happen.”
On a side note, I’ll be off for the next few days before rejoining the team in Seattle. I’ll be watching the Oakland games on TV and might chime in with a post now and then, but it won’t be the daily lineups and routines that I usually have. Please excuse me while I finally unpack some of the last items in the suitcase from the road.
Two days after the Tigers’ four-error debacle against the Royals, they might have played their best overall defensive game Tuesday, with at least four standout defensive plays. And it began on a play that probably should’ve been a disaster.
Brad Penny knew he should’ve been covering home plate as soon as he saw Josh Hamilton take off from third on Adrian Beltre’s popout to Brandon Inge in foul territory. At that point, of course, there was nothing he could do.
“I was standing on the mound and I saw [Hamilton] go,” Penny said after the game. “And I was like, ‘[Crap], I supposed to be there.'”
Fortunately for them, Victor Martinez realized it was uncovered immediately. And for a 32-year-old who has caught for almost his entire career, he still has some wheels. He had enough speed to beat Hamilton to the plate and apply the tag as he slid in.
“That was a huge play,” manager Jim Leyland said. “Penny and probably Miguel both should’ve been there. That turned out to be a huge play.”
It was a devastating one for the Rangers. Hamilton suffered a non-displaced fracture of the humerus bone below his right shoulder, sidelining him for 6-8 weeks.
The obvious highlight, of course, was Ryan Raburn’s catch to rob Michael Young of a third-inning three-run home run. Instead of a blast to break open a Rangers lead, it became a mere go-ahead sacrifice fly. For someone whose defensive exploits have ranged from good to bad to ugly, it was another big play for him.
“I think the wind held it up more than anything,” Raburn said. “It gave me time to get underneath it. I don’t think it was anything special. I just went up and I was able to come down with it. I felt [the ball] when I jumped up. I was just hoping it would stay in there.”
What might have gone overlooked between those plays, though, was the relay work necessary to throw out Beltre trying to stretch a double into a triple leading off the fourth. Specifically, Ramon Santiago took Austin Jackson’s throw in shallow right-center field and fired a strike to Brandon Inge, who applied the tag at third.
It’s a very difficult throw, Inge said, because of the angle involved.
“It’s usually a no-win situation,” Inge said, “because the runner once he’s past second base, the angle that he’s coming in is directly in line with where the throw’s in. So it’s probably a 10 percent chance that ball’s going to get close enough to actually put a tag on.
“Santiago started that ball right off the shoulder and it worked its way off to the left side, but he kept it close enough to him where I could get a tag on him real quick.”
Said Santiago: “I tried to throw it to the left side of the glove. When the runner is going in the same direction as the throw, it’s tough.”
Austin Jackson isn’t really a big bunter for his speed. He had four bunt hits as a rookie last year, though his 29 infield hits tied him for eighth in the American League. The only AL players who had that many infield hits with so few bunt singles were Derek Jeter, Carl Crawford and Rajai Davis.
The way Jackson’s at-bats have been going lately, though, he isn’t picky about how he gets on, as his bunt single Sunday showed.
“I might have to start using my legs a little bit to find a way to get on track,” Jackson said.
It almost looked like a sacrifice situation, except that the Tigers were down too many runs to get away with moving runners over. Brandon Inge led off the eighth inning with a single, and Wilson Betemit dropped back at third when Jackson came up.
Jackson had flown out to center, shattered his bat on a groundout to second, and struck out swinging in the sixth. He didn’t need a hint.
“I was bunting on my own right there, seeing a good opportunity with no outs,” Jackson said. “Betemit was kind of playing me further back than he had been, so I just tried to take advantage of that.”
Manager Jim Leyland had no problem with that.
“It was a good play, obviously,” he said. “It kept a rally going.”
Manager Jim Leyland said Saturday night he was probably going to sit Jackson on Sunday, but he put him in the lineup after all. Jackson’s 4-for-10 history off Luke Hochevar and Magglio Ordonez’s day off with ankle soreness put him in a position to try to get a spark.
His first three at-bats showed some of the same problems Leyland has seen in recent days.
“Jackson right now is swinging at too many balls. That sums up the situation for me,” Leyland said. “Right now, he’s in one of those grooves where he’s probably anxious to get a hit, maybe a little overanxious to get a hit, and consequently he swung at some balls. But he’ll get out of that. He’s a grinder. He’ll figure that out.
“I don’t really think that’s a big issue. I think he’ll be absolutely fine. I think right now if you’re asking why he’s making outs, well he’s swinging at a lot of bad pitches.”
That said, Jackson went to full counts in each of his first two at-bats, so he’s still taking some pitches. He might have swung at a high fastball on a full count in his first at-bat, and he swung and missed at a 3-1 pitch off the plate in his second. He swung and missed at a potentially high fastball for a sixth-inning strikeout.
“Right now, I’m just doing my best to have quality at-bats,” Jackson said. “Obviously the results aren’t what I would like them to be. But at the same time, I’m going to go up there and keep battling, try to put good at-bats together.”
Asked why some of his good at-bats aren’t ending well, he said, “I wish I could answer that for you. It’s one of those things where, like you said, you get kind of anxious up there. You want to get base hits, and you might tend to swing at some bad pitches. You might put a pitcher in a better count because of that. I did that a few times today, put the pitcher back in a better count.”
He did not waste time on his bunt, laying down the first pitch and killing it along the third-base line, forcing catcher Matt Treanor to scramble. Jackson beat the throw to first.
“I just have to keep going up there and try to find a way to get on base,” Jackson said.
Bunting his way on is one of them.
The question came up to manager Jim Leyland after Saturday’s loss: Is Austin Jackson, who went 0-for-4, pressing?
Leyland did not have to pause to think about the answer.
“I would say so,” Leyland said.
Thus, Jackson is going to get Sunday off, his first game out of the starting lineup since the season began a week and a half ago. Don Kelly will most likely get the start in his place.
Victor Martinez is the only other Tiger to have started every game so far this season, and all but two of those have been at designated hitter.
Jackson, of course, plays a more demanding position in center field. With a mix of Magglio Ordonez, Brennan Boesch and Ryan Raburn rotating in the corner spots most games, Jackson has had a good amount of territory to cover.
Jackson, also, of course, bats leadoff, which has demands of its own. Setting the table for a lineup that needs to score runs more consistently, it’s moreso.
Before the game, Leyland lectured that seven games is a short amount of time to make judgments.
“I think everybody has a tendency to put way too much emphasis, good or bad, [on results] early in the season, after 6-7 games,” Leyland said. “If a guy’s 0-for-6, people are panicking. If a guy’s 1-for-9, people are panicking. It’s nine at-bats. If a guy’s 5-for-9, people go, ‘Oh, man.’ We’ve played seven games. It is what it is.”
That was before Saturday’s game. After the game, Leyland was cautious about not reading too much into his decision, but also indicated these are real struggles for Jackson.
“He never gets too high or too low. But, at the major league level, he hasn’t really gone through this just yet, either. You have to watch it. I’m probably going to get him out of there tomorrow.”
Leyland was asked if he thinks it’s mechanical.
“I think people have a tendency to think that every time you’re not hitting, you’re doing something mechanically wrong. That’s not always necessarily true,” Leyland said. “Sometimes, you’re just not staying on the ball. He’s gone through a little bit of a streak where he’s swinging at balls and taking strikes. So I think he’s been caught in between just a little bit. And that’s usually a telltale sign of a little slump.
“But he’ll come out of it. He’s just not in a real good groove right now, where he’s feeling really good, getting the foot down, boom, then the timing. But he’ll get that. He’ll be fine.”
Jackson has not had a ton of ugly at-bats. When he entered Tuesday’s off-day batting .200, he led all major league hitters in pitches seen. He had a lot of deep at-bats, but not the results he wanted. He led the American League in strikeouts, and a lot of them came on 2-2 and 3-2 pitches. Hitting coach Lloyd McClendon liked the at-bats part, and both he and Jackson felt he was seeing the ball well.
He has had some quicker outs the last few days. He ran the count full before taking a called third strike in the first inning Saturday, but then struck out quickly in the eighth inning with runners on first and second. He also hit into a double play on a 1-0 pitch Friday.
Jackson ended Saturday batting 6-for-34 with 13 strikeouts, having struck out at least once in every game so far this season. When he gets on base, though, he tends to get around and get home. He has reached base safely nine times and scored five runs. But four of those runs came in the season-opening weekend at Yankee Stadium.
Justin Verlander talked in spring training about wanting to be able to throw any pitch in any count — not just the fastball, but the offspeed stuff. His success Wednesday had a lot to do with being able to have two different offspeed pitches work as his go-to pitch.
“He just had a real good mix of pitches,” catcher Alex Avila said, “being able to keep them off-balance with the fastball, the changeup — he had a real good changeup today. His curveball really came [alive] during those middle innings when we needed the strikeouts. And he did a really good job mixing them up.”
Verlander used the curveball early on and found good break on it. But it really came alive during the fourth inning, once Derrek Lee — who battled Verlander in a 12-pitch at-bat in the opening inning — had jumped a first-pitch fastball for a two-run homer that broke up Verlander’s no-hit and shutout bids in one swing.
An infield single from Vladimir Guerrero put the potential tying run on base. Verlander left him there with back-to-back strikeouts of Matt Wieters and Adam Jones. Both struck out on three pitches. Both swung and missed badly at the curveball for strike three.
By that point, Verlander’s curve was starting inside to right-handed hitters before breaking down and across to fall on the outside corner. For a young hitter hoping it was left over the plate, there was little hope, only a lot of deception.
“The middle innings there, some of the swings I was getting on it, I felt like it was coming out looking like a fastball and had a lot of depth, getting a couple swings like Wieters and then Jones,” Verlander said. “That inning in particular, I had a really good one.
“It had good depth on it today. Hopefully I can maintain that feel. I talked about last year, not finding my curveball until the last month and a half or so. I felt like right out of the gate in the spring, I had a pretty good feel for it. So if it stays right there, I feel like it’ll be a pretty good pitch for me all year.”
If there was a turning point when Verlander and Avila went to the changeup as the offspeed pitch of choice, it might have been Brian Roberts’ walk in the sixth inning. He laid off of it, got on base, stole second and produced a run to keep the O’s within a few tallies.
“After I threw three [curveballs] in a row to Roberts, I kind of lost the feel for it a little bit,” Verlander said, “and I was able to go to the changeup a little bit more, get some guys out with that.”
By his last couple innings, Verlander looked almost like a closer, switching from fastball to changeup with little pattern.
“With him, all his pitches are above average,” Avila said. “So when he’s feeling good with one, that’s the one you go to. And then later on in the game, then the hitters, they adjust. This is a good lineup. They’re going to adjust, so we have to adjust with them. And his changeup, a couple times he threw it, and it looked really good, and we able to keep going back to it.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter spoke to the difficulty of adjusting to Verlander, or at least finding a rhythm.
“Four-pitch mix and not a whole lot of tendencies in the sequencing,” Showalter said. “Understands what he’s doing out there.”
The fastball tonight was almost an afterthought. He could go to it, but he didn’t absolutely need it to get an out. For Verlander this early in the season, that’s not in his history. He threw more curveballs and offspeed pitches in 2008 in part because he didn’t have the same velocity on his fastball. He got the power fastball back the next year and kept it up last season, but there were nights when he couldn’t get much else consistently on the corners.
Verlander has one win in each April since 2007, and he hadn’t one his first or second start in a season since 2006. He has his token April win over on the 6th, and he should have at least four more starts to try to get more. If he’s pitching like this, it’ll be interesting.
Meanwhile, Verlander still has never lost against the Orioles.