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February 15, 2012

Pebble Hunting

Watching the Worst Game of 2011

by Sam Miller

I took a film class in college (ladies) where the professor told us that the most important shot in any movie is the first. That shot, he said, should tell us everything important about the protagonist’s conflict. This is the first shot of the Tigers/Giants broadcast of July 2, 2011:

It tells us everything we need to know about the Tigers/Giants broadcast of July 2, 2011. There will be baseball gloves. There will be baseball hats. There will be Max Scherzer hiding in shame. There will be averting of eyes, because this will be the worst game of the 2011 season, as we recently determined with an exhaustive search.

But baseball is amazing, and in the course of this game there will be countless moments that are entertaining and memorable. Did I say countless? That’s wrong. I can count them. I’m counting them. There are 15. And these are they, in order, scattered through a sort of live-blog of this game.

***

It is 97 degrees, but the heat index is 104 in Detroit on this Saturday night. Barry Zito is pitching on three days’ rest. Max Scherzer is coming off a strong start. “I made a small mechanical tweak, something I was doing, and I think that allowed me to be more in the zone,” Scherzer says in a pre-taped segment. This is not a game the Tigers should lose. But just about three minutes after they play that tape, Scherzer gives up a two-run home run to Pablo Sandoval. Then Ryan Raburn makes an error, then there’s an infield hit, then Brandon Crawford comes up and homers to make it 5-0. This is

Entertaining Moment No. 1:

Here’s the thing about that home run: Casper Wells missed catching it by about an inch.

If he catches the ball, we have a spectacular highlight catch, and this game isn’t the least interesting game of the year anymore. And if he catches the ball, the inning is over, and the Giants are just 67 percent likely to win the game. Instead, he misses it, and the Giants are 86 percent likely to win the game. The game’s not over, but, you know. Here’s the other thing about that home run:

Fans.

Max Scherzer.

We go to the bottom half of the first. Barry Zito has a five-run lead. Barry Zito walks the leadoff hitter. Barry Zito falls behind 2-0. Barry Zito is going to blow this game, but Casper Wells swings at 2-0 and fouls out to Aubrey Huff. To be fair, it was a pretty good pitch to hit, having been propelled by the pallid left limb of Barry Zito. Zito then crosses up Eli Whiteside, and we get

Entertaining Moment No. 2:

Eli Whiteside is literally off the ground. Both feet. He has jumped up and also caught a low Barry Zito pitch, at the same time. Barry Zito pitches so slowly that the catcher can do stunts.

Zito continues to look awful, but Miguel Cabrera hits a hard grounder to third base, Tejada turns a double play, and the Giants are out of the inning. Top of the second, Scherzer walks Eli Whiteside, because the Tigers aren’t going to allow 15 runs if they don’t start walking Eli Whiteside. Aaron Rowand works a six-pitch at-bat, after a seven-pitch at bat in the first, so we’ve now seen Aaron Rowand’s disgusting bat wiggle 13 times. Emmanuel Burriss comes to the plate, and the Tigers announcers go silent for 24 seconds. Finally one mentions that Willie Mays was Emmanuel Burriss’ father’s favorite player.

Tigers color analyst Rod Allen: "A lot of people say that the Say Hey Kid was one of the best players they’ve ever seen play."

Followed by 19 seconds of silence. This game is starting to feel weird.

The Giants rally again in the top of the third, and nature can’t take it anymore.

  • Aubrey Huff doubles. Lightning out behind center field.
  • Cody Ross singles. Thunder. Grounds crew starts scurrying about.
  • Nate Schierholtz walks. Rain starts falling hard.
  • Brandon Crawford gets ahead in a count. Wind batters the center field camera, dust swirls in the outfield. And the tarps come onto the field.

The bad news is that this could take a while. The good news is that, if it takes long enough, they’ll have to pull Zito from the game. Right?

The rain delay lasts about two hours and 40 minutes. So for the better part of two hours and 40 minutes, I did this. Enjoy.

And we’re back.

Entertaining Moment No. 3: For continuity, let’s review the scene when Nate Schierholtz batted in the top of the third, and when Brandon Crawford batted immediately after him in the top of the third:

By my count, there are four people in both pictures. The umpire. The catcher. The usher in orange. And the guy in the blue shirt, front row, short hair. Others?

Scherzer has been pulled, so Brayan Villareal is the new pitcher. Brayan is pronounced Brian. In his first three pitches, he completes the walk to Crawford and gives up a grand slam to Miguel Tejada. There is arguably a case that a grand slam is interesting and therefore cannot occur in the least interesting game of the year, but think about what this grand slam represented. There is a kid just outside Detroit who sat through that entire rain delay, watching reruns of Mama’s Family, because it’s a Saturday night and he gets to stay up late to watch a baseball game and he’s going to watch that baseball game. His great dread is that the Tigers broadcast comes back on and the announcers tell him the game is postponed because of rain. But that didn’t happen! Instead, the Tigers broadcast came back on, and he got all settled in for more baseball, and three pitches later he turned the TV off and went upstairs to go to bed because even that kid doesn’t want to watch a 10-0 game.  

The Giants are 99 percent likely to win this game.

Five pitches later, Victor Martinez takes a foul tip off his shoulder. He guts out a couple more batters, but then Don Kelly replaces him. The second-most-famous person in this game is now gone. Don Kelly catching, by the way. We’ll talk about that in a minute.

Another walk. Then Aaron Rowand singles, and the Tigers finally record an out on a grounder by Emmanuel Burriss. The crowd cheers, sarcastically. The Tigers bring the infield in, sarcastically? Let it not be said that Jim Leyland isn’t managing the heck out of this game. Villareal walks Pablo Sandoval, and he’s out of the game. Ryan Perry is brought in to get out of the inning and to sweat disgustingly.

Barry Zito comes out for the bottom of the third. It has been just about three hours since he finished the second inning.

Bruce Bochy: Not goin’ ruin a perfectly good arm in a game like this.
Bochy: Nope.
Bochy: Dangerous. Takin’ all that chunka time and been back there playin’ guitar in the shower, getting’ all settled down, arm bein’ all out of focus like, gonna hurt himself go back out there, not gonna do that to a good arm, not without a real good reason.
Barry Zito: I got a chance at a two-hitter, skip.
Bochy: F*** it let’s rock.

Zito gets out of the third, and when we come back for the top of the fourth, Don Kelly is catching. Don Kelly is not a catcher. Don Kelly is a left fielder, and Don Kelly is a third baseman, and a first baseman, and occasionally he has played the middle positions. Three days before this game, he came into a blowout as a pitcher and got Scott Hairston to fly out. Position players pitching in a blowout—to save the bullpen—are pretty common, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a non-catcher catching, to save the catchers, in a blowout. But Alex Avila has been given the day off, and Martinez is injured, so here is Don Kelly. I will spend the rest of this game watching Don Kelly catch. This game just got really interesting to me.

Entertaining Moment No. 4: Every time this happens:

Entertaining Moment No. 5: Umpire being scared as all get out that Don Kelly’s going to let a pitch smack him in the thing.

Very little is happening at this point, but I’m still watching, so I’ll skip straight to the entertaining moments.

Entertaining Moment No. 6: Alex Avila, who is not catching, remember that, remember how he’s not catching?

Later that night...

Alex Avila: Oooh yeah
Mrs Avila: oooooooooh
Alex: This is so intimate
Mrs: We are physically close
Alex: We’re doing some things
Mrs: Touching each other
Alex and Mrs: /kissykiss
Mrs: /hits something hard
Mrs: What the
Mrs: Why are you wearing a cup?

Bill Hall is the Giants’ new left fielder. Chris Stewart is the Giants’ new first baseman. Chris Stewart is the Giants’ new first baseman.

We reach the point in the game when the TV production crew realizes that there are more than three innings left and nothing interesting can happen. Which is a scary feeling. Sometimes you get that feeling on Friday afternoon at 2:20 where you know you’re not going to get any more work done until the weekend, and you have to kill two hours and 40 minutes without getting busted. And sometimes you get that same feeling on Tuesday morning at 10:15 and you have to kill three days, six hours, and 45 minutes without getting busted. So things get weird.

Entertaining Moment No. 7: Production turns into cable access. Bary Zito factoids. AV geeks in capes. Panda.

Entertaining Moment No. 8: Stakes are raised when Jhonny Peralta and Brennan Boesch hit back-to-back home runs, because:

Entertaining Moment No. 9: I’ve been watching the usher, the guy in orange directly behind home plate, all game. Baseball game going on around him—admittedly, the least interesting game of the year—and he never turns around. But then he really gets tested, and …

…he passes! I’ll be honest: I shouted when I saw this.

Entertaining Moment No. 10: Bored faces.

Entertaining Moment No. 11: Longer and longer stretches where the announcers say nothing. Fifty-five seconds of silence at one point. Do you know what 55 seconds of silence sounds like? It sounds like this.

Entertaining Moment No. 12: Rod Allen’s bored-and-tired laugh.

Entertaining Moment No. 13: Attendance announced.

Entertaining Moment No. 14: When, late in the game, it’s a whole new group of people in the seats behind home plate, having replaced the people who replaced the originals. And when these new people start flexing?

And, finally, Entertaining Moment No. 15: Sort of dozing off and looking up and getting freaked out at this.

Because my name is Sam.

So that’s the game. That’s the least interesting game of the year. Did you know that robots can’t catch a ball? There are simply too many variables for even the most advanced computer to calculate in the short period of time it takes to adjust and position oneself to catch a ball. Trillions of variables. And that’s just one ball. So imagine an entire baseball game—every flight of every ball, and also every drop of rain, and every human, 38,983 of them. All variables. Trillions to the power of trillions of variables, infinite. And it turns out that, if you watch the least interesting game of the year slowly enough, and you hit pause a lot and just stare at the scene, a lot of those variables start to seem interesting, or maybe you start to lose your mind.


Sam Miller also writes for the Orange County Register.

 

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

28 comments have been left for this article.

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