The Memorial Day Weekend Takeaway
If you’re going to compile a 10-game losing streak, you’ll need to find some innovative ways to give away games. Like, say, batting around and scoring five runs in the first inning against David Price, then getting shut out for 14 offensive frames before going down with a series of defensive misadventures:
That was the story of the Red Sox, whose five-spot in the top of the first on Saturday was the only inning in a span of 31—between Thursday and Saturday—in which they pushed across a run. A.J. Pierzynski slugged a three-run blast to make up for the absences of Mike Napoli, David Ortiz, and Shane Victorino, but that was all the visitors would get in the 15-inning affair at Tropicana Field.
As a result, their margin for error on the mound and in the field shrank every time the Rays lit up the scoreboard. Joe Maddon’s club countered with a run apiece in the second and fourth innings and then tied the game with three in the fifth, two of them on a double by Brandon Guyer. That was it for both lineups until the last of the 15th, when an already-snakebitten Andrew Miller felt the fangs of pain again.
The Red Sox put the shift on for James Loney, who seldom hits ground balls to the spot generally occupied by the third baseman, only to watch him beat the alignment for a single. Guyer followed with a bunt toward the left side, on which neither Miller nor third baseman Brock Holt reacted decisively enough to record an out at either second or first. With two on and nobody out, Desmond Jennings hit the comebacker you saw in the above replay, and when Miller’s throw went to the third-base side of the bag, out of the reach of Dustin Pedroia, who was a touch late covering the keystone, the Rays celebrated a franchise-record third straight walkoff win.
While the Red Sox—who hadn’t lost nine straight since 2001—might not be used to such streaks of futility, Miller has grown accustomed to the walk of shame to the visitors’ clubhouse as the other team jumps around in joy. Saturday’s 6-5 defeat was Boston’s 10th in 11 games. Four of those have been of the walk-off variety. And Miller, who now leads the American League in reliever losses, has been on the mound to witness or play a role in all of them.
Things would get worse before they got better for the Red Sox, with an 8-5 loss on Sunday punctuated by a benches-clearing brawl. John Farrell’s club fell behind 6-1 in Monday’s game, when Clay Buchholz handed out eight walks in three-plus innings, but recovered to take the series opener at Turner Field 8-6 and snap the losing streak at 10.
Quick Hits from the Long Weekend
When it comes to pitching, a little adrenaline can go a long way.
The hardest pitch Josh Beckett fired on Sunday was his 128th and final offering of the afternoon: a knee-high fastball that froze Chase Utley to cap the first no-hitter of the right-hander’s career.
Beckett hadn’t exceeded 125 pitches in a game since April 29, 2012, when he needed 126 to get through 6 2/3 innings against the White Sox. He’d never reached 128. But the extra effort was made worthwhile by the looking strikeout of Utley that completed Beckett’s first shutout since June 15, 2011.
The 34-year-old right-hander flummoxed the Phillies by mixing his pitches well throughout the game. He threw first-pitch strikes to 23 of the 30 batters he faced, but on the few occasions when Beckett did not get ahead, he prevented the home nine from sitting dead red.
Utley’s at-bat, which started with a 2-0 count, offered a prime example of the apt sequencing used by Beckett and catcher Drew Butera. With the count in the hitter’s favor, Beckett placed a changeup at the knees and Utley swung through it. That—perhaps even more than the slightly-outside 3-1 curveball deemed a strike by plate umpire Brian Knight—was the pivotal moment in the final plate appearance of the gem.
Beckett’s ERA ticked down to 2.43 over the course of the outing, in which he walked three and fanned six. It marked the fourth time in nine tries that Beckett has held opponents without an earned run, compensating for the three games in which he’s allowed four.
On the other side, the Phillies suffered their sixth blanking in 18 games and their first no-hit contest since 1978. Ryne Sandberg’s bunch gave the Rockies a taste of that medicine on Memorial Day with a 9-0 clubbing that helped wash away the bitterness of Sunday’s futility.
Hours after the Phillies did that, the Dodgers nearly subjected the Reds to the same fate that befell the Phils on Sunday. Hyun-jin Ryu carried a perfect game into the eighth inning, when Todd Frazier broke it up with a double. Fifty-two at-bats separated that knock from the previous one allowed by Don Mattingly’s staff, which came within six outs of history before Frazier spoiled the party.
Mark Lowe’s relief appearance in the bottom of the seventh inning on Friday didn’t play a pivotal role in the Orioles’ 8-4 win over the Indians. The score was 5-4 Baltimore when he took the mound for his second major-league assignment of the season, and the Tribe wouldn’t score again. By now, most people outside of Lowe and the Indians staff have probably forgotten all about the inning he pitched. But for those who treasure baseball minutiae, this one is worth a closer look.
Lowe’s outing began with a fly out by Jonathan Schoop, after which Adam Jones doubled. With first base open, Lowe elected to intentionally walk Chris Davis, who’d homered earlier in the game. The next batter, Nelson Cruz, hit a comebacker, and that’s when the adventure began.
Lowe’s throw to shortstop Justin Sellers was low and outside. It skipped into center field, allowing Jones to score, Davis to go to third, and Cruz to reach safely on the fielder’s choice. J.J. Hardy plated Davis on a ground out, and Delmon Young scored Cruz with a double. First base was open again, so Lowe issued an intentional free pass to Ryan Flaherty. That enabled him to face the righty-swinging Caleb Joseph, who fouled out to end the inning.
All of which left Lowe with a line you don't see very often: 1 IP, 2 H, 3 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 0 K.
According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, until Friday, only eight relievers in the past century had met all of the following criteria while recording three or fewer outs in a game:
- Two or more intentional walks
- Two or more hits
- At least one unearned run
- Zero earned runs
The last pitcher before Friday to come out of the bullpen and satisfy every bullet on that list did so on July 27, 2011. It was none other than Mark Lowe.
Extra-base hits were hard to come by for David Wright in the early going. He homered on Opening Day, then went eight games without a two-plus-bag knock and ultimately collected just three more doubles and no triples or long balls over the rest of the first month.
An 0-for-9 skid at the flip of the calendar brought Wright’s slugging percentage down to .309. And while he turned into a doubles machine shortly thereafter, racking up six of them between May 3-10, he went yard only once during the first three weeks of May. That put the third baseman’s SLG at .385 entering play on Saturday, the first time he’d ever been mired below .400 so deep into the season’s second month.
ESPN’s Mark Simon pointed out on May 19 that while Wright was still driving the ball with authority the other way, his pull-side power had disappeared. He’d lost nearly 40 feet on each ball hit to the left side, and while Simon acknowledged that bad luck was playing a role in Wright’s slump, the lack of long flies was worrisome nonetheless.
In the wake of Simon’s post, Wright went 3-for-5 with a double on May 21 and 2-for-4 on May 22, but the only extra-base hit in the set went to right. The Mets’ series opener versus the Diamondbacks was rained out on Friday, putting a twin bill on Sunday’s docket but leaving Saturday’s matinee as scheduled. Perhaps the extra day of rest was exactly what Wright needed to get some juice back in his bat.
The 31-year-old drilled a double in his first at-bat against D-Backs starter Josh Collmenter—though that, too, was an opposite-field knock, and Wright wound up stranded at third when Lucas Duda struck out with the bases loaded and two away. Wright singled to center in the third inning and advanced to third on a ground-rule double by Curtis Granderson, but Chris Young and Duda failed to drive him in again.
In the fifth, Wright finally took matters into his own hands:
Perhaps cognizant of Collmenter’s penchant for slipping in changeups in hitters’ counts, or otherwise just eager to clobber a mistake, Wright had no trouble getting around on a 78-mph offering that the right-hander placed directly into his wheelhouse:
The tater gave Wright his third hit of the day and his second multi-XBH game of the season, a feat that he accomplished nine times in 2013 despite missing 45 games with a strained hamstring. He ended the afternoon with a ground out in the eighth inning with Brad Ziegler on the mound for Arizona.
So, after struggling to score with Wright aboard, could the Mets overcome a 3-2 deficit when the third baseman was retired? Ziegler allowed an infield single to Granderson and walked Young, giving Duda and Wilmer Flores a chance. But both of them flied out, and despite Wright’s best efforts—including this play in the field—the de facto opener went into the Mets books as a loss.
You know you’re in for a long day when the other team’s ninth-place hitter ropes four knocks and drives in five runs. The Tigers learned that the hard way on Saturday, when the Rangers dealt them a 12-2 drubbing at Comerica Park.
Rick Porcello took the bulk of the beating, allowing eight runs on 12 hits in 5 1/3 innings. Adrian Beltre and Donnie Murphy both did yardwork at Porcello’s expense, marking the first time that the right-hander had served up more than one gopher ball in a game since a nightmare at Fenway Park last September 4. But they weren’t the ones who made history in the rout.
The aforementioned no. 9 batter was rookie Rougned Odor, who’s still more than eight months shy of the legal drinking age. Saturday’s contest was the 12th big-league game of Odor’s young career. He’d notched just one extra-base hit—a homer on May 11—in his first 11 but tripled that total amid the Rangers’ outburst.
Odor picked up an infield single in the third inning, an appetizer for the two-run triple he’d deliver in the next frame. The second baseman grounded out in the sixth. Then, he came up with the bases loaded in the seventh and chased fellow rookie Corey Knebel with a three-run three-bagger…
…that cemented his place in the history books:
Rougned Odor of @Rangers is 1st 9-hole hitter w/ at least 2 triples and 5 RBI in a game in @MLB history (since RBI became official in 1920).
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 24, 2014
Odor also became the 31st player since 1914 to mix in a two-triple effort among his first 12 games in the majors. Brad Miller, the most recent before Odor, did it for the Mariners on July 5, 2013 without collecting an RBI. The last second baseman to do it was John Sipin of the Padres on May 24, 1969—and he, too, failed to drive in a run with either of his three-baggers. The last player to do so while batting in the nine-hole was Jeff Stone on October 1, 1983, but he entered that game in a double switch.
The Rangers are down Prince Fielder and Jurickson Profar, and Shin-Soo Choo left the blowout with a sore ankle. On the bright side, they’re now 1-0 in franchise history when their no. 9 hitter swats two triples. Their top prospect supplied a much-needed glimpse into the future amid a rough, 24-25 start to 2014.
Porcello wasn’t the only Tigers starter to take a beating during the Rangers’ visit to Comerica Park. Justin Verlander followed in his footsteps, getting shelled to the tune of nine runs (six earned) on 11 hits over 5 1/3 innings. He walked three and struck out only one.
None of Verlander’s pitches did the right-hander much good, but his fastball—which averaged 93 mph and topped out at 96—was chiefly responsible for the damage the Rangers did. The 31-year-old’s maximum velocity has gradually decreased over the past few years, and he’s yet to figure out a way to cope with not being able to post triple digits on the radar gun.
Opponents are now hitting .276 off of Verlander’s heater, and he’s racked up more walks (22) than strikeouts (14) in plate appearances in which the four-seamer has been the terminal pitch. Sky-high BABIPs on his secondary pitches, partly bad luck but partly the result of those offerings playing down with diminished velocity, have cemented the righty’s fate over the past three starts, as he’s allowed five runs apiece in them. To find the last time Verlander permitted five-plus tallies in three straight outings, you’d have to go all the way back to July 26-August 11, 2008.
On the other end of the current pitching spectrum is Adam Wainwright, who took the hill in primetime on Sunday looking to deliver a worthy encore to a one-hit shutout earlier in the week, in which he held the Diamondbacks to only one baserunner. The 32-year-old had a tough act to live up to, but he handled the task with aplomb.
Wainwright failed to complete the Cardinals’ 4-0 victory over the Reds, needing 117 pitches to record 24 outs, but he dazzled the ESPN audience in his eight innings on the bump. The right-hander’s cutter baffled Cincinnati’s lineup from beginning to end; he threw 30 of 37 for strikes, including nine swings-and-misses, and only six cutters were hit into play.
Wainwright now has an early Cy Young Award résumé to tempt both old school and sabermetrically inclined writers. He leads the majors with eight wins and a 1.67 ERA, and he tops the National League with 15.6 PVORP. After Johnny Cueto faltered at Nationals Park, ceding eight runs (six earned) in 5 1/3 innings in his first clunker of the year, Wainwright may have the inside track to the hardware as the second month draws to a close.
George Springer had a seven-game hitting streak, home runs in three straight games, and seven long balls in May, an Astros franchise record for a player’s first month.
That was before Memorial Day—on which he went 4-for-4 with a tater, two doubles, five runs scored, three RBI, and a walk.
Concerns about Springer’s hit tool led some to question how quickly he could make a major-league impact and how significantly he could bolster the Astros offense. The past few days suggest that the answers are “right away” and “a whole lot.”
The 24-year-old wasn’t spooked on Monday by the prospect of stepping in against fellow Rookie of the Year hopeful Yordano Ventura. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance, when Ventura’s soon-to-erode velocity was still registering 98, and doubled in the subsequent frame, driving in two of the Astros’ five first- and second-inning runs.
For the skeptics who wished to caveat Springer’s first two contributions on account of Ventura’s ailing elbow, the University of Connecticut product had much more in the hopper.
He smacked another two-bagger leading off the fourth inning off of long-reliever Michael Mariot, moved to third on a balk, and crossed the plate on a double-play ball off the bat of Jason Castro. Springer singled and scored in the sixth inning, then took his talents to the outfield in the seventh to swipe an extra-base hit away from Eric Hosmer:
And then, in the eighth, he added the cherry on top of the masterful night with a big potato to left-center:
Just about every tool in Springer’s loaded kit was on display on Monday at Kauffman Stadium, when he became only the fourth Astros player ever to score five runs in a game. The last big leaguer in any uniform to collect four hits in four at-bats—three of them for extra-bases, one of them a home run—and touch home plate five times in the same game was Erick Aybar on September 18, 2011.
Springer’s OPS rose to .848 with the flawless evening, up from .637 10 days earlier, even though he sat out Thursday’s game with a strained hip flexor. It seems safe to say that the 11th-overall pick in the 2011 draft has officially arrived.
The Defensive Play of the Weekend
On a weekend with no shortage of outstanding plays, this catch by Collin Cowgill gets the nod:
What to Watch for on Tuesday
- Trivia time: Can you name the most recent batter to draw a walk against Phil Hughes? (Answer below.)
A battle between Hughes and Yu Darvish might seem like a mismatch, but if the Twins righty’s recent performance offers any guide to how he’ll fare tonight, he should give the Rangers ace a worthy challenge. Hughes has led Minnesota to victory in each of his last six starts, and he hasn’t walked a batter in any of the last five—which, to aid those of you still pondering the question, is a span of more than a month. The 27-year-old carries a 47-to-6 K:BB ratio into the second of four games between the Rangers and Twins at Target Field (2:10 p.m. ET).
Trivia answer: Alcides Escobar, in the second inning on April 20.
- Lighting up the radar gun has never been a problem for Henderson Alvarez, whose fastball routinely reaches the mid-90s. But until this year, the right-hander hasn’t commanded his secondary arsenal well enough to carve through lineups loaded with left-handed hitters. Alvarez has allowed a .284 True Average to glove-side batters since arriving in The Show as a 21-year-old in 2011 while holding righties to a .222 clip. Now, as he takes the mound versus the Nationals with a 3.21 ERA and 3.36 FIP, Alvarez appears to have turned the corner with his changeup.
The 24-year-old Alvarez missed most of the 2013 season with inflammation in his throwing shoulder, but in the 17 starts that he was healthy enough to make, he limited opposing lefties to two hits in 13 at-bats that ended with the offspeed offering. He’s carried that success over to this point in 2014, turning to the changeup more often, as it’s held platoon-advantaged foes to a 5-for-43 (.116 average) line with 11 strikeouts. Hitters can’t do much damage when they’re unable to hit the ball in the air, and thus far this season, Alvarez’ cambio has almost always stayed on the ground:
With Bryce Harper on the disabled list, first-year manager Matt Williams won’t have his most dangerous lefty slugger available on Tuesday, but Adam LaRoche is back from a quad strain that put him on the disabled list on May 10. LaRoche has never faced Alvarez in a big-league game, but the righty will need to be careful when the first baseman digs in, because he has shown a penchant for punishing changeup mistakes (7:05 p.m. ET).
- East Coasters will need to stay up late to catch the duel of the day, which—at least on paper—figures to take place at the O.co Coliseum. It’s Max Scherzer against Sonny Gray in game two of four between the Tigers and Athletics, which follows a 10-0 Oakland romp in game one. It’s up to Scherzer to cool down an Oakland offense that scuffled at times during a sweep in Toronto but slugged five homers on Monday for the first time since August 9 of last year (10:05 p.m. ET).
- The Mets sent Zack Greinke to the showers just five innings into his start on May 22, with 101 pitches on the right-hander’s arm and three runs (one earned) on the board. It was the first time that Greinke had been charged with three runs in a game since July 25, 2013, a span of 21 starts. The 30-year-old Greinke will try to bounce back this evening, with the Reds—the club that got to him in the aforementioned July outing—in town for a three-game series that began last night. He’ll go up against Alfredo Simon, who holds a 2.31 ERA even though he’s been thumped for eight homers in 58 1/3 innings of work (10:10 p.m. ET).
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