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June 6, 2013

What You Need to Know

Grand Finale

by Daniel Rathman

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The Wednesday Takeaway
There have been longer extra-inning games than the one played between the White Sox and Mariners yesterday afternoon. There have been games that remained scoreless for far more innings than the 13 the White Sox and Mariners went without plating a run on Wednesday. And there has even been an extra-inning game that ended on an ultimate grand slam and in which the winning pitcher was charged with five runs.

But even if you made searching through the archives a full-time job for the rest of your life, a wilder sequence of events than the one that transpired at Safeco Field on Wednesday you might not find.

For 13 innings, even as the teams tallied 19 total hits, the scoreboard showed nothing but goose eggs. The White Sox hit into three double plays, and the Mariners doubled them up with six. The closest either club came to gaining a regulation-play lead was in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Alex Rios gunned Kyle Seager down at the plate after catching a line drive off the bat of Nick Franklin.

Then, the White Sox, losers of eight straight games, a span over which they had not scored more than four runs in any single contest, hung a five spot and sent most of the fans still at Safeco home dejected. Run-scoring hits by Rios, Jeff Keppinger, Hector Gimenez, and former Mariner Casper Wells seemed certain to halt that skid, and another, even-more-depressing one.

Not only had the White Sox not savored a victory since their 5-3 win over the Marlins on May 26, but they had scarcely even tasted the possibility of coming out on top during the 10-day stretch. Not once, in those eight consecutive defeats, did the White Sox enjoy a lead at the end of any full inning. Still, a five-run advantage heading into the bottom of the 14th, the 87th frame they had played since capping off the aforementioned win against Miami, certainly must have brought a feeling of confidence to the visitors dugout.

Not for long.

Ventura handed the ball to his closer, Addison Reed, who was 17-for-18 in converting save chances this year, tasking him with holding on to a lead at least two runs larger than those he would normally be asked to protect. Reed had allowed only six earned runs all season. All he had to do to seal this one was not allow five.

He came within a strike.

And then, with the bases loaded and a run already in, Seager unloaded on a hanging slider, sending a two-strike, two-out, game-tying grand slam out to right-center field, and etching his name and the game into the history books, and one of the few spectators still lingering in the bleachers into the fan Hall of Shame.

To the White Sox’ credit, they were undeterred.

With Reed the pitcher of record for the visitors and Hector Noesi at the bottom of the box score for the home team, each squad was down to its last reliever. Eric Wedge was unwilling to use his closer, Tom Wilhelmsen, who had worked on each of the past two days and on three of the previous four. Bench coach Mark Parent (more on that later) was undoubtedly reluctant to turn to a starter just hours after learning that Jake Peavy would need a four-plus-week stint on the disabled list to nurse a fractured rib.

Noesi and Reed held the line in each half of the 15th, but in the White Sox dugout, the frustration only continued to mount. Chicago loaded the bases with one out in the top of the inning on a single by Ramirez and walks by Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko, the former of which was intentional. But Noesi erased all three runners by striking out Wells and Keppinger, the former swinging and the latter looking, as Parent (more on that later) and fans on the South Side clenched their teeth at the second golden opportunity squandered in a matter of minutes.

Fortunately, another chance was in the offing, and the White Sox cashed it in.

For the second time in three frames, the visitors jumped ahead, this time on run-scoring singles by Alejandro De Aza and Rios, after Gordon Beckham led off the frame with a base hit and stole second. De Aza, who scored on Rios’ knock, was the 12th player to cross the plate in the free-baseball period of the contest, tying an American League record.

The Mariners would not break it.

Despite having already thrown 44 pitches from the official mound, and probably dozens more while dry humping in the visitors bullpen, Reed gutted out a perfect bottom of the 16th, ensuring that his team’s losing streak really would end at eight, and that its streak of lead-less innings really would end before it reached 90. He struck out the Mariners side—comprised of Brendan Ryan, Endy Chavez, and Jason Bay—and in doing so became just the second pitcher to be credited with a win despite being saddled with at least five extra-inning runs. Micah Owings, who worked the top of the 10th in the aforementioned ultimate-grand-slam game, is the only other Live Ball Era hurler fortunate enough to be rewarded after so egregious a hiccup.

It took 16 innings, five hours and 42 minutes, two managers (Ventura took off after the 12th inning to catch his flight), every player readily available to Ventura and Parent, and perhaps a few years from Parent’s life expectancy, but at long last, the White Sox are back in the win column. They will welcome the Athletics, who have won 11 of their last 13 and swept the ChiSox in Oakland last weekend, to U.S. Cellular Field this evening (8:10 p.m. ET).

Matchup of the Day
Buoyed by a .429 BABIP, Torii Hunter enjoyed an outstanding first month in Detroit, hitting .370/.411/.500 when April came to an end. Since May 9, though, the right fielder, who typically occupies the two-hole in manager Jim Leyland’s batting order, has only a .241/.302/.333 triple-slash line to show for his efforts, despite compiling an 11-game hitting streak that spanned from May 18 through June 2. If Hunter is to begin a new streak tonight, he’ll need to solve a pitcher that has perplexed him since 2006, when the 37-year-old Hunter was in his penultimate year with the Twins.

Of the active pitchers that Hunter has faced more than 30 times, not one has rendered him as impotent as Roberto Hernandez. The first-year Rays righty has squared off with Hunter on 40 occasions, and the first-year Tiger has only five singles, two walks, a plunking, and a sacrifice fly to show for them. Hernandez, whose career strikeout clip is 14.1 percent, has recorded 10 punchouts against Hunter, or one for every four times that they have met.

Twenty-seven of the 40 head-to-head plate appearances between Hernandez and Hunter are tracked on the afore-linked matchup page, and in them, the pitcher formerly known as Fausto Carmona has seemingly made full use of the data available to him.

Hunter struggles with sinkers inside, so Hernandez has tied him up repeatedly with his, which features more movement than most pitchers can boast. Hunter is prone to flailing at sliders down and away, so Hernandez has given him ample opportunities to chase. And, although Hernandez generally reserves his changeup for left-handed batters, Hunter’s willingness to expand the lower boundary of the zone has led the 32-year-old to sprinkle it in about twice as often as he normally would to a fellow righty.

Assuming that Leyland keeps Hunter in the lineup, the right fielder will dig in early looking for his first hit off of Hernandez since April 7, 2008. When he does, he can expect a heavy dose of sinkers in and sliders away—the same recipe that Hernandez has employed to great effect for years. It will be up to Hunter to break through the spell in support of undefeated right-hander Max Scherzer, who will be on the mound for Detroit (1:08 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • Jon Lester has allowed at least four earned runs in each of his last three starts, something he did just once in his first nine trips to the mound. As a result, his ERA has risen from 2.72 to 3.53, its highest point since Opening Day. Tonight, the Red Sox’ ace will duel fellow southpaw Derek Holland, who is two months into what would be an impressive breakout campaign. Holland’s 2.81 ERA is affirmed by an excellent 2.55 FIP, the product of a 4.2 percentage point increase in strikeouts, a 1.1 percentage point decrease in walks, and a home-run pace more than three times slower than last year’s. The Rangers have not been defeated in a game started by Holland since April 27 (7:10 p.m. ET).
  • The list of pitchers in the past decade who have begun their careers by permitting three or fewer earned runs in each of their first 12 starts is short. Prior to this season, it featured only Brandon Webb, Josh Johnson, Jaime Garcia, Josh Outman, and Barry Enright; the newest member of the club, who joined it by holding the Giants scoreless for seven innings on June 1, is Shelby Miller. The 22-year-old righty comes into tonight’s date with the Diamondbacks leading all National League starters with a 1.82 ERA, bested only by the Red Sox’ Clay Buchholz, whose ERA sits at 1.62. He’ll lock horns with Ian Kennedy while attempting to fend off the still-scorching Paul Goldschmidt in the series finale (7:15 p.m. ET).
  • A hit parade might be in store at Kauffman Stadium, where Mike Pelfrey (72 allowed in 51 1/3 innings) is set to battle Wade Davis (83 allowed in 57 innings), tonight. Pelfrey, like most Twins pitchers, has been unable to miss bats, notching a strikeout in only 10.8 percent of the plate appearances made against him, the third-lowest clip in the majors, ahead of only Jon Garland and teammate Kevin Correia. Davis has fared better in the bat-missing department, but he sports a .404 BABIP—a number that generally would be attributed to bad luck, but that in this case is also the result of a bloated 29.3 percent line-drive rate. The right-hander who is better able to hide his early-season weakness—missing bats for Pelfrey, missing barrels for Davis—figures to prevail in the rubber match (8:10 p.m. ET).

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

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