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September 5, 2013

What You Need to Know

Night of the Long Flies

by Daniel Rathman

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The Wednesday Takeaway
The 2012 Red Sox, eager to be put out of their misery and struggling to amass even a 7-19 record in September, hit only 16 homers during the entire month. The 2013 Red Sox, eager to secure the organization’s first East division title since 2007, produced half of that total in one night.

The rubber match between the Tigers and Red Sox was close for a while—tied 3-3 after three and 4-4 after four, and then 5-4 Boston after five. But in the next three frames, the home team plated 15 runs and the visitors earned none, turning the game into a 20-4 rout that flipped the run-differential tables and made all sorts of long-ball history.

Boston’s eight homers tied a franchise record set on Independence Day in 1977, when Fred Lynn and George Scott each went yard twice. David Ortiz—who also notched his 2,000th career hit in the contest—was the only member of the team who drilled two homers on Wednesday. Thus, a franchise-high seven players contributed at least one big fly. Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Lavarnway, Will Middlebrooks, Mike Napoli, and Daniel Nava each added to Ortiz’s pair.

According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, there have been 18 occasions since 1916 on which a team hit eight home runs in a game. The Blue Jays, who whacked 10 on September 14, 1987, hold the single-game record. The Reds are the only team ever to hit exactly nine in a game, and they did it precisely 14 years to the day of Boston’s outburst, on September 4, 1999.

Following the blowout victory, the Red Sox are now 2 ½ games ahead of the Tigers in the race for the junior circuit’s no. 1 postseason seed. And with 19 hits—12 of them for extra bases and all of them off of right-handed pitchers—in 41 at-bats on Wednesday night, their league-best .814 OPS against right-handers surged upward, too.

Quick Hits from Wednesday
Another home-run feat? Sure, why not.

There must have been something in the water at Petco Park, because the Giants, who hit nine home runs as a team in the month of July, cranked six of them in the series finale at Petco Park, just about the last place you’d expect that to happen. The previous time the Giants drilled a half-dozen long balls, on September 18, 2011, they benefited from the thin air at Coors Field. And the time before that, Barry Bonds—who did not pitch in—was still manning left field.

The Padres did a little yardwork of their own on Wednesday, teaming up with the Giants to match the single-game Petco Park record of eight, set on July 14, 2006. Ronny Cedeno and Chase Headley each went deep for San Diego, while Brandon Crawford, Hunter Pence, Hector Sanchez, and Pablo Sandoval did the heavy lifting for San Francisco.

Sandoval did three times as much as anyone, becoming just the second player ever to whack three balls over the Petco walls in one night (the other was Ryan Braun, who did it on April 30 of last year). It was the first three-homer game of Sandoval’s regular-season career, and it came less than a year after he walloped three off of Justin Verlander and Al Alburquerque in Game One of the 2012 World Series.

***

A short while after those two power displays, the Cardinals enjoyed one in extra innings from a player who wasn’t even in their starting lineup. Allen Craig got the start at first base and in the cleanup spot, as usual, for Mike Matheny, but he suffered a foot sprain in the fourth inning. Matt Adams took his place. And St. Louis didn’t miss a beat.

With the score tied 3-3 in the top of the 14th, Adams delivered a solo shot off of Alfredo Simon to give the visitors a one-run edge.

But Reds manager Dusty Baker also had a weapon at his disposal off the bench: speedster Billy Hamilton, fresh up from Triple-A and ready to make an impact on the basepaths. Ryan Ludwick singled leading off the inning, and Baker immediately brought Hamilton in to run. He stole second and scored on a single by Zack Cozart, becoming—according to Baseball Reference—the first player since at least 1916 to enter each of his first two big-league contests as a pinch-runner, steal a base, and score a run.

Adams was undeterred. With the bases empty and one away in the top of the 16th, he went yard again, this time off of Logan Ondrusek, to put the Cardinals on top, 5-4. And this time, the Reds did not have an answer.

Most contenders would sorely miss a .315/.373/.457 hitter already worth 2.3 WARP were he to succumb to an untimely injury. But with Adams in reserve, the Cardinals—who also edged a game closer to the Pirates—might be able to withstand Craig’s absence, about which we’ll learn more later today.

Defensive Play(s) of the Day
Jordan Zimmermann is a pitcher, not a first baseman. But if the whole pitching thing stops working out, he might have a backup plan:

What to Watch for on Thursday

  • Salvador Perez’s OPS fell to .672 when he went hitless in five at-bats on August 22, but since then, the Royals’ catcher has been on a tear. Over his last 12 games, Perez has gone 16-for-41 (.390) with two doubles and five home runs, doubling his long-ball total for the season. And on top of all that, he hasn’t struck out in any of his last 47 plate appearances. The 23-year-old has played on 11 straight days (one of them as a substitute), so he might sit out today’s matinee, in which the Royals will send Jeremy Guthrie to the mound to face Joe Saunders (2:10 p.m. ET).

  • After walking about seven percent of the batters he faced in 2011 and 2012, David Price has morphed into Cliff Lee so far in 2013. The 28-year-old’s walk rate has come all the way down to 3.7 percent—tops among all qualifying starters in the American League and second only to Adam Wainwright in the majors—and he hasn’t issued more than two in any outing since he came off the disabled list on July 2. Tonight, Price will square off with an Angels offense that ranks 10th in the majors with 450 walks so far this season. Keep an eye on his showdowns with Mike Trout, who has stepped in three times versus Price in their careers and come away with two strikeouts and a base on balls (10:05 p.m. ET).

  • Sonny Gray, a first-round pick in the 2011 draft, has settled nicely into the Athletics rotation. The best of his five starts, not surprisingly, was an eight-inning blanking of the Astros on August 15, in which the right-hander struck out nine and walked only one. In seven total big-league appearances since his early July promotion, Gray has compiled a 37-to-10 K:BB ratio while allowing only two home runs in 35 innings. And he has an excellent chance to improve on those numbers with the Astros in town for a four-game weekend series. Gray gets the ball in the opener, in which the visitors will counter with former A’s farmhand Brad Peacock (10:05 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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