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June 27, 2008

Prospectus Matchups

Learning to Cheer Correctly

by Jim Baker

Many of you are probably aware that the Chinese are going to great lengths to organize fan cheering for the upcoming Olympics. The Peoples Republic of China can do flip card stunts with the best of them, but this is something different: a massed, coordinated infusion of pre-programmed good vibes.

Maureen Fan, writing in the Washington Post, quoted Yuan Xuzhong, secretary of the organizing committee of the federation's Beijing Workers' Cultural Progress Cheering Team as saying that the cheering will be positive and non-partisan. "In our instructions, we especially emphasized this. They should cheer for both sides in order to show that the Chinese are very tolerant."

This got me wondering what sort of cheers we would hear at baseball games if this procedure somehow made it to these shores and into the stadiums of our national game. How would cheers sound if they were coordinated and attitudinally adjusted to fit the Chinese model? I'm guessing something like this:

  • To the batter hit by a pitch: "Your pain resonates in us all!"
  • To the pitcher who hit the batter: "Please be more careful with your tosses!"
  • To the successful sacrifice bunter: "We are pleased with your devotion to the whole."
  • To the manager visiting the tired pitcher on the mound: "We will respect your decision regarding his possible replacement, regardless of the subsequent outcome."
  • To the outfielder who crashed into a wall trying to make a catch: "The physical world holds no boundaries for you, brave outfielder!"
  • To the pitcher trying to work his way out of a bases-loaded situation: "Your enemies are everywhere, but focus on the only one who can hurt you."
  • To the runner caught stealing: "Better to fall off a bridge too far than wait for the boat to carry you across the river."
  • To the infielders after a successful double play: "Great is the hunter who bags much prey with but one arrow."
  • To the batter who hit into the double play: "Too cautious is the warrior who has never killed a comrade."
  • To the beer man: "Noble vendor: slake our thirst!"
  • To all the players, while they take a hot dog break: "We will have our mouths full momentarily, but will return to our exultations as soon as possible."

Another Late Uprising by a Team Playing Dead

Last week, I discussed the greatest scoring efforts made by teams that were being no-hit into the late innings. For one of the scenarios--eighth inning with two outs--we did not have complete data at press time. In the interests of closure, I'm happy to say that now we do, because Bil Burke found this game in the archives:

Eighth inning, two out: Five Runs; Mets 9 - Cubs 5 (April 10, 1982)

Another in the long tradition of failed Mets no-hit attempts, this one by Pat Zachry, the lanky, full-bearded right-hander about whom Vin Scully once famously said, "He looks like he was just discovered at sea, floating on a raft." In this game, he made it to the eighth having walked one Cubs batter and struck out none. The Cubs had hit just four balls out of the infield. Sixteen of their 21 outs were recorded via groundouts or popouts. Meanwhile, Dave Kingman had hit a three-run homer in the fourth and driven in two more with a single during a six-run uprising in the seventh. In the home eighth, Zachry walked Keith Moreland and retired Steve Henderson--with whom he had been traded to New York for Tom Seaver five years earlier. That brought up future Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, looking for his first hit of the season. Instead, he hit into a forceout and would eventually run his season-opening hitless string to 20 at-bats before finally hitting safely. (His troubles would continue after the first hit, though. Including his cup of coffee the previous year, Sandberg's career began 2-for-38, one of the worst starts ever for a player who would go on to glory.)

Zachry then surrendered his second walk of the inning to Ty Waller, moving Sandberg to second. Pinch-hitter Bob Molinaro came in for Herman Segelke, who had just completed the only scoreless outing of his three-game big league career. Molinaro grounded one into right and the Mets first no-hitter went by the boards, along with the shutout. After an error by Wally Backman let in another run, singles by Junior Kennedy and Bill Buckner plated two more. Leon Durham flied out to end the inning, but, when Zachry surrendered a home run to Jose Morales to lead off the ninth, Neil Allen was brought in to close it out.

Throwing a no-hitter is tough enough, but what Zachry was trying to do--complete nine innings of hitless ball without whiffing any opponents--is that much harder. Taking at least some of the burden off your fielders--like Braves prospect Tommy Hanson did in the extreme on Wednesday night when he struck out 14 Birmingham Barons en route to a no-hitter--is the more common way to go about it. In fact, in the last 50 years, only one pitcher has managed to toss a no-hitter without striking out a single batter. That was Ken Holtzman of the Cubs against Hank Aaron and the Braves on August 19, 1969. It's pretty obvious: the more opponents you strike out, the less you're leaving for chance. Putting 27 balls into play and having them all find leather is a lot to ask from fate. The 13th groundball that Zachry allowed found a hole. Holtzman didn't induce a 13th--his grounder total stopped at 12. Of course I'm not saying a 13th grounder would have gone for a hit, but you can only tease the BABIP gods for so long.

Had Zachry managed to muddle through his outing and get the blanking, two current streaks would have been cut off at the knees. While the Mets have the longest streak of not throwing a no-hitter, the Cubs have the longest of not being no-hit. The last time was in 1965 by virtue of Sandy Koufax's perfect game.

Thanks to Caleb Peiffer and Bil Burke for their research.

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