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October 12, 2012

Playoff Prospectus

Sofa Scouting: Reds vs. Giants, Game Five

by Jason Parks

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Top of the 1st:
The buildup to this game reaches a crescendo with an on-camera Verducci spot, which takes me to another world, a world where anything is possible. His strong features and classical build create a confidence where even blatant lies and mis-directions would be welcomed with an earnest ear and open heart. He has me hooked with his first vocal salvo.

Mat Latos comes out of the gate similarly strong, working fast and with authority. He wants to let the Giants know that he controls the game and that he doesn’t care about their  love affair with their own existence. Latos pitches downhill, with an overhead release, creating a steep plane to the plate when he can stay over the ball. He drags his arm in the delivery, with a deep pickup, but the arm works well and he has the speed to make it work. He doesn’t show a ton of fastball movement,  but he puts mustard on it, and he challenges hitters to beat him. After a quick strikeout to start the game, Latos allows two singles on balls that should have been hit for singles, and he settles in to get Buster Posey and Hunter Pence on weak flyouts on pitches that could have been hit a long way if hitting a baseball a long way were easier. Latos is pitching with attitude, and the Giants look willing to swing. This is going to be fun. Tom Verducci-walking-on-a-beach-drinking-a-cocktail kind of fun.

Bottom of the 1st:
Lots of Texans on the Reds’ roster, so I’m smitten. Matt Cain on the bump for the Giants. He has big-game stuff, and this is a big-game situation, so let’s see if the carpet matches the drapes. He starts off the game with a mid-80s slider against a right-handed bat, which is interesting because I was expecting a fastball, and so was the hitter, and so was Verducci, and the world usually follows accordingly. After a quick out to start the bottom of the first, Brandon Crawford makes a bad play on an infield hit that should have been made, which is often the case with Crawford, whom I consider a below-average defensive player who looks better than he is and probably is good at picking up ladies, assuming that’s his bag. Whatever his bag, he looks charismatic and capable of evening high jinks.

Cain vs. Votto makes my mouth wet, and I can’t wait to see a battle to the death. Votto walks. Cain’s command can fluctuate from sharp to shaky; he can lose his delivery and falls out of the zone with his fastball early in the count. Early on, he seems to have a better feel for his slider, a sharp offering with good velocity and late slice and drop to the glove-side. After putting two on base, Cain returns to the slider and sends Ludwick back to the bench when his lunging swing fails to connect with the secondary offering, which has been better than his primary offering so far. Cain’s fastball has zip, but he’s missing arm-side and high. And when he locates, he’s catching too much of the plate. Cain throws a bitchin’ changeup on a 2-2 count to Jay Bruce to get a swing-and-miss that ends the inning. Really sexy pitch. It showed both fastball deception and action, falling away from the left-handed swing of the sturdy Texan.

Top of the 2nd:
I haven’t eaten lunch, and I’m getting hungry. I bought this new grill pan that creates a beautiful char, and my ex-mother-in-law just sent me some Earl Campbell hotlinks in the mail, so I’m thinking that I should char those sausages in a few minutes. It makes me think: Would I rather have the ex or the mother of the ex? Anyway, Latos strikes out Belt to start the second, going with a changeup to start the exchange followed by gas followed by gas followed by gas. Latos’s fastball looks really easy right now. It’s just exploding out of the hand. He glances over to Verducci, tips his cap, and watches his confidence grow like a flower in the sun. Another quality fastball at 94 mph and another easy popup to left-field. Latos is setting the tone. Verducci is dressed like a Roman Soldier in the Giants dugout.

Bottom of the 2nd:
Cain starts off Scott Rolen with a curveball that slurves outside the zone for a ball.  Not the tightest rotation on the ball. Very loose. He seems to lack confidence in the fastball early. Cain always has the same face, good or bad. The left side of the infield makes another boot on a makeable play, which allows another baserunner, which makes Cain angry, although you can’t tell because he always looks the same. His intensity is wearing a disguise. Ryan Hanigan isn’t a very good-looking man. He quickly grounds into a 6-4-3 double play, and Cain celebrates by not making a facial expression. Drew Stubbs took a cut on a pitch while still in the on-deck circle. He pulls off every fastball, except for the one that catches him looking, which baffles both Stubbs and Cain. This game is moving very quickly. I need to eat soon.

Top of the 3rd:
Latos starts the third by pounding Matt Cain with fastballs until the pitcher acting as a hitter gives up and sits down. Big leverage from Latos, just shoving the ball downhill from a huge frame. I’m liking Latos right now, although he doesn’t look like a guy I would want to hang out with socially. He’s really working fast. Lots of intensity and purpose. He has a wider face than I recall. His fastball has a lot of kick. He’s just throwing 94 up in the zone and daring the Giants to damage it. So far they aren’t putting good wood on the ball. He’s cruising. His approach so far is a street fight, with his fastball the visible blade being shown to intimidate and threaten the opposition. The Giants need to match knives or pull a gun. Latos isn’t backing down. Another quick inning.

Bottom of the 3rd:
Cain starts Latos off with a playful curve, followed by a fastball that the Reds pitcher sends to deep center field for an out. It’s a message to Cain from Latos that speaks volumes despite not speaking words. Latos wants to drink blood. Cain gets Phillips to pop it up on the next pitch and reacts by taking a nap on the mound. Cozart barrels the ball, but Blanco got the memo about playing defense in big games and makes a nice stab. Cain sends Blanco a Hallmark card with a butterfly gently resting on a flower petal on the cover. Inside it says, “Life is better with you in it.” Verducci has been silent for a few innings. I’m nervous. This game has been on for less than an hour, and it’s already headed to the fourth inning. I need to turn on the stove. Earl Campbell, save my sweet soul with your spicy pork product.

Top of the 4th:
Latos just delivered a fastball near Pablo Sandoval’s mouth. I’m surprised he didn’t try to sample its tender meat with a sloppy bite. Latos is moving the ball all over. Attacking high with the heater, moving the breaking ball down and away, keeping the hitters off-balance. Posey has the face of a pre-teen, and Latos picks him up with a white van and a very good fastball. Posey pops up. No contest.  To Pence, Latos  sets the table with an intimidating fastball at 95, then follows it up with a basket of sliders out of the zone. I like the sequence, as it’s capped with a 95-mph fastball around the neck, which Pence decides to make contact with, sending a ball up the middle for a hit. Phillips wasn’t steady with his decision making on the play, as the contact could have been another out. Alas. Latos goes back to work on Belt with a full arsenal’s worth of attack. Belt battles and keeps it interesting but eventually succumbs to the charm of the secondary stuff, and goes down swinging. Latos gets a bad tattoo to commemorate the exchange. He’s pitching with serious swagger. I’m loving it.

Bottom of the 4th:
Matt Cain strikes out Joey Votto, who chokes up on his bat. It’s adorable. Cain gives a slight smile, but Verducci lets us know that’s its just gas. Jay Bruce brings his Texas roots to the table and delivers a single into the gap. Cain escapes the inning one pitch later, and it dawns on me that despite the quality of pitching, the game is being framed by clumsy swings and poor offensive setups. Cain is mixing well, which is no doubt affecting the timing and the approach, but rolling over on a first pitch isn’t a good way to get a rhythm pitcher out of his rhythm. Let’s go bats.

Top of the 5th:
Blanco just made the worst swinging bunt attempt I’ve seen in several years. It was so embarrassing that Verducci, now wearing a cape and fake vampire teeth, laughed manically on the mic and then disappeared into a plume of smoke. Blanco redeems himself by ripping a base hit to the opposite field. Good recovery after such a bad start. Latos is still pitching with the same intensity, but the lack of depth in the arsenal and sharp command is starting to cloud the process. He falls behind in the count on Crawford and eventually gives up an RBI triple into the right field corner, which completely changes the tone of the game. Cozart fumbles a tapper to short, unable to unload cleanly, Crawford scores from third, and the runner is safe at first. It’s 2-0 Giants, which might be one run more than they need.

Latos looks pissed. He looks like the type of player who might hit one of his teammates in the face if he gets in the way of his emotions. Latos regains his composure and allows a four-pitch walk to the next hitter. His fuel tank might be running low, but some of the aforementioned arsenal limitations have more to do with the poor inning than a gas tank issue. He’s not locating early, he’s allowing hitters to find comfort in the box, and he’s transitioning back from a pitcher to a thrower.

Buster Posey might not have to shave until the year 2015. Bases loaded, one out, two runs already in. Baby face in the box. This could be the game. Sure enough, Latos gives up a grand slam to Posey, which ends Latos’s day, effectively ends Cincinnati’s season, and gives me the perfect opportunity to take a deep breath and head to my kitchen to cook meat. Be back in a few.

Bottom of the 6th
I step away for a delicious encounter with a hotlink, and my phone starts blowing up with tales of a Cincinnati resurgence and a Matt Cain emotional response. After allowing a deuce the previous inning, Cain started to hang more secondary offerings in the sixth. After a Ryan Ludwick bomb to cut the lead to three, Cain helps remove a few wheels from the wagon, and the Reds’ resurrection is in full swing. Dear Reds: I apologize for saying your season was effectively over. I was hungry and dizzy, and I didn’t expect Cain to lose feel for the slider and start beach balling over the plate.

I finally regain my focus with two runners on base, nobody out, and Hanigan the Unhandsome at the plate. Cain triggers a strike ’em out, throw ’em out scenario that changes the direction of the inning, turning what could have been a monster situation into a monster letdown. Never trust the unattractive. Cain gets the hook, but the Giants escape any further damage. The Hanigan at-bat might have effectively ended Cincinnati’s season. I’m once again pushing doom.

Top of the 7th:
Bruce Springsteen commercials have the opposite reaction as Viagra. It’s an ice-cold swimming pool meeting a pair of mesh shorts, with too many words and poor vocal articulation. Americana for the stylishly challenged. Angel Pagan has one of the coolest names in baseball. He kills virgins while wearing sheep-wool leggings, but he does so with a good heart. Sean Marshall on the bump, and the Giants are swinging away. After five pitches, the inning is over. The Giants seem content to win the game 6-3. I’m itching for a coffee. It’s already 3:30 ET. I’ll drink club soda instead. Tom Verducci is drinking the milk of seals like it’s normal.

Bottom of the 7th:
Big inning. They keep showing Hanigan in the dugout. He looks like a McPoyle brother with catcher’s equipment on. Pitching change before the first batter. Playoff baseball. Liquor commercials are so stupid. I don’t drink in order to live the assumed life of a pirate. I really don’t care much about Pirate life, or the romanticized version we have of Pirate life, where handsome men with fresh grooming wear elaborate outfits while drinking elaborate liquor in order to have elaborate sexual relations with attractive women in attractive settings. Just pour the drink and let me wallow in my own failures like a real person. You want a good liquor advert? Shot of a guy living alone, misery on his face, tear stain on his cheek, using Facebook for creepy investigative means, looking at pictures of his 10th-grade girlfriend kissing her new boyfriend, wishing he had the capacity to behave like an adult when he was 17 years old, pants half undone, belly looking more buxom than his target’s bosom, liquor bottle on the desk: Jack Daniels.

Two on, two out, lefty pitcher vs. righty batter, bottom of the seventh, three-run game. Tom Verducci, dressed like a pirate in a liquor advert, just scaled the left field foul pole with a bottle of Navy-strength rum in one hand and a naked woman in the other. You can feel the electricity in the stadium. This is why we watch the game. Ludwick battling, fouling off tough pitches that should have ended the inning. The count is 2-2. Verducci just removed his sword. This is intense. Full count. Good thing Hanigan isn’t at the plate. Tapper back to the mound. Never mind. I have to make a few calls. Be back.

Top of the 8th:
Broxton on the hill for the Reds. He looks like a man who knows how to ask for seconds. He hangs a pitch to Shoeless Joe Pence, who hits a single and runs the bases in black-and-white film stock at twice the speed. The public address announcer politely asks Ryan Hanigan to put his mask back on, and Pence promptly steals second base. Brandon Belt hits a rope for an RBI single, but fellow Brandon (no relation) snags the ball at second and wheels to first to make the strong play. It most certainly saved a run, which might have effectively ended the Reds’ season. Broxton just ordered and consumed a plate of nachos on the mound while Blanco took a few practice cuts. Inning over. The Phillips play keeps the Reds’ heartbeat showing up on the monitor.

Bottom of the 8th:
You don’t see many mentions of Hitler in Volkswagen commercials. This is a big inning for the Reds. With bullpen arms waiting in a line, being aggressive and taking advantage of opportunities is paramount. And with a plate of junk on the way, staying back, staying inside the ball, and using the opposite field could be huge for the Reds. They need baserunners, not individual heroes. With one out, Scott Rolen hits a fluff ball into the patch of grass between the second baseman and the outfield, and the Reds have hope. Hanigan is up.

Hanigan puts good wood on the ball, but Crawford makes a big play with his better-looking face and robs Hanigan of the glory. The better the face, the better the place. Casilla is working fast and showing nasty stuff. Lots of deception in the delivery, and the 90-mph fastball just jumps on the hitters. He’s working away, getting hitters to pull off the ball. Frazier stays on a tough breaking ball and flips it into center for a base hit. Fantastic bit of hitting. Very mature. Two on, two out, bottom of the eighth, managers doing some managing. Bochy goes to Romo for the last four outs, and Jason is very happy. Verducci is practicing his equestrian routine in foul territory.

Romo vs. Navarro. This could be the game. Romo’s face looks like a 1975 Penthouse foldout. This is huge. Posey puts down his delicate fingers, and Navarro hits the subsequent offering into the empty earth in front of the center fielder. What could be a game-changing hit turns into a highlight-reel catch, as the duality of man, Angel Pagan, slides into the picture to make the diving catch, achieving a full celebratory pose in the follow-through. The catch might have effectively ended the Reds’ season. Verducci just jumped his pony over a large puddle of water without creating a ripple or a splash. I’m loving the game. Beautiful.

Top of the 9th:
Aroldis Chapman in for the Reds. What a magnificent pitching creation. I’d rather bury my best friend alive than face Chapman from the left side. Brandon Crawford doesn’t share this same fear, as he turns on a 97-mph fastball for a single. I didn’t watch many Reds games this year, but I’m going to assume Chapman isn’t very familiar with giving up hits to below-average lefties. He looks sad. The rest of the inning is uneventful, although torturously long and unpleasant. Three outs remain. My heart is racing. Your heart is racing. Tom Verducci is actually racing. The world is one.

Bottom of the 9th:
Romo and his matted au naturel aesthetic right to work. The Giants can taste the next round of the playoffs. Brandon Phillips pops it up, and the Reds have two bullets left. Romo is very effective at changing speeds and sight lines, and when he misses, he keeps the ball in pockets where it’s difficult to take advantage of the mistake. Romo issues an uncharacteristic walk, and the temperature of the ballpark elevates as superhero Votto hits a single and the tying run comes to the plate with one out. I’m very excited about this game. Tom Verducci just snorted a line of Adderall off of home plate. This is getting real.

Two on, one out, three-run game, Ludwick at the plate, Verducci is wired as hell, and the crowd is exploding. Holy hell, Ludwick hits a single, and the score is now 6-4. Two on, one out, two-run game, and Bruce the Bruce is at the plate. The crowd is chanting “Texas! Texas! Texas!” (No it isn’t). Jay Bruce represents the series-winning run. If he hits a walk-off homer, I’ll stab my neighbor in the heart. This is incredible. The count is 0-2. Romo is composed. Bruce is Texan. Dusty Baker is holding a shotgun and a bottle of champagne. I have a dinner meeting at 6 ET, and I need to shower first. Baseball is better than marriage.

Romo and Bruce continue to battle. Bruce is hanging tough, staying back to prevent off-speed exploitation. The basics of his approach are: “You can’t beat me with your fastball.” This at-bat is lasting so long that Verducci’s high is subsiding. High drama. The count is 2-2. Ten pitches so far in this at-bat. Eleven pitches. Full count. The crowd is growling. Twelve pitches, and Romo wins the battle with a slider and Bruce flies out. 80-grade at-bat. Scott Rolen has the world on his shoulders. Two on, two outs, ninth inning, Game Five, 1-2 count, one strike away from a trip to the NLCS… and Romo strikes out Rolen, and the Reds’ season is over. What a game. What a series. What a sport. I’m spent. 

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

Related Content:  Playoffs,  Scouting,  Giants,  Reds

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