December 12, 2019

The Most Exciting Inning...

....That I Witnessed Live in a Completely Meaningless Game

I meant to write about this earlier, but never got around to it. However, I believe that what happened in this particular game (which happens multiple times a year) is very relevant given some recent rule changes, so I figured it was time for my semi-once-in-a-while post.

I want to recount what I saw in a game that took place on a cool evening in the Summer of 2013 in San Francisco.  The game was meaningless in every sense of the word. There were no exciting pitchers starting, no milestones to be broken, there wasn't a no-hitter or a batter hitting for the cycle, it didn't mean a lot for the standings...

Here's what happened to lead up to the top of the 8th inning - which is what the title of this post is about:

The 4th place Giants (this was an odd numbered year after all), were hosting the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 19th. Chad Gaudin started the game and came out of the gate throwing VERY well. He had been used in a mix of bullpen roles earlier in the season and had performed above expectations, keeping his ERA around 2, when he was moved to the rotation at the start of June. Adam Eaton led off the game striking out swinging, and Aaron Hill followed by looking at a 2-2 pitch. Paul Goldschmidt then hit a weak popup that Marco Scutaro backed up a few steps from his regular 2nd base position and caught to quietly retire the side.

In the bottom of the first, Buster Posey doubled in Gregor Blanco who had walked to lead off the home half of the inning, and then scored on a Hunter Pence single to give the Giants a 2-0 lead. Nothing else of note happened until the seventh inning stretch. Chad Gaudin had just recorded his fourth 3-up-3-down frame of the game, and had retired the last nine batters. He was cruising on just 92 pitches, maintaining that 2-0 lead, having only given up three singles without walking a batter. In fact, this may have been his best start of the season, in what was probably the best year of his career.

But he was due up in the bottom of the 7th, and this was National League ball, so inevitably his night was over. I was a little surprised to see "Frenchy" Jeff Francouer come out to the on-deck circle. I didn't know he was still in the majors, having been released earlier in the season, but later confirmed that he in fact he got paid $6 million that season and continued to have several negative WAR seasons after this. Rooting for the Giants I wasn't overly enthused by the substitution, but Bruce Bochy showed that just maybe he knows a little bit more about managing a baseball team than I do, as he lined a double down the right field line to get himself in scoring position for the top of the lineup. Alas, Will Harris induced three consecutive ground balls, and he was left stranded.

On to the 8th inning.... which is what this whole post is about.

Lefty hitting Gerado Parra (the Baby Shark guy!) led off so Bochy brought lefty Javier Lopez on to face him. And he did his job getting him to fly out. Didi Gregorious was up next, but Kirk Gibson wanted to strategize just as much as Bochy, so he had righty AJ Pollock pinch hit. This of course necessitated a pitching change, and righty Sandy Rosario was summoned. I wasn't happy to see a mid-inning pitching change, as this summer day was quickly getting very chilly. I just had a light jacket on and had already resigned myself to the fact that if the game went to extra innings I was going to have to pay ballpark prices for a jacket or blanket to keep me warm. Anyhow, Pollock did his job getting a single and bringing up lefty Eric Chavez as the tying run. Predictably Bochy went back to the pen and called on lefty Jose Mijares to preserve the lead. But the chess matched continued as Kirk Gibson called Chavez back to the dugout and had Cody Ross go up instead. So now Bochy was stuck with a lefty pitching to Ross. I remembered the previous year in Boston, Ross destroyed lefties. And he didn't waste anytime swinging at the first pitch he saw and drove it deep into centerfield..... I thought the game was tied, but it stayed in the park, and now there were two outs with one man on. And Adam Eaton, who like Chavez hits from the left side came up, so at least I knew there wouldn't be another pitching change. Mijares was lucky to have dodged a bullet with Ross, but could be counted on to get the lefty. Well, Eaton surprised everyone at the ballpark (well, at least everyone that isn't used to watching this National League style ball every night) by bunting. With two outs! He was successful and now the go ahead run came up. And it was Aaron Hill, a right-handed batter. So you know what that meant - another pitching change as righty Santiago Casilla was summoned. Meanwhile it wasn't getting any warmer in the stands. I contemplated getting a coffee or hot chocolate from the concession but didn't want to miss a pitch that might be the difference in the game. Aaron Hill worked a full count and you could feel the tension mounting in the air. Both runners would be off on the pitch, and with the jump the speedy Eaton might be able to score the tying run on a base hit. But Hill didn't chase a low slider, and the bases were now loaded.  The Giants had managed to work themselves into a bases loaded jam, while clinging to a two run lead.  And now they had to face Paul Goldschmidt. He was in the middle of an all-star season where he ended up in second place in the MVP voting. But Casilla got ahead on him 1-2 and Goldy grounded an outside slider to the shortstop who flipped to second to end the threat. Disaster averted.

The final tally for this inning: Four different pitchers were used. Two of whom didn't retire the only batter they were brought in for. They threw 19 pitches facing 6 different batters.Arizona entered 3 pinch hitters into the game. But by the end of the frame, the Giants got the job done, escaping without giving up a run. (Epilogue: Sergio Romo got the side in order in an uneventful 9th).  For a completely meaningless game, this whole sequence throughout this half inning was extremely intense. I was mentally exhausted, not to mention freezing from having to sit through this in a mid 50s night with that wind rolling in from the San Francisco Bay. But I LOVED IT! It was one of the most exciting series of events I witnessed live in the 55 MLB games I've attended. Pundits will say that "nothing" happened. The score was 2-0 heading into the inning, and that's how the game finished. But the deep usage of the bullpen and pinch hitters added an element of game theory and strategy that kept the fans on the edge of their seat throughout.

But I lament the fact that with the new rules brought into place starting next season we won't be able to witness this anymore. MLB is instituting a three batter minimum per relief pitcher.  This is ostensibly to reduce average game times. Maybe it's just me, but I'd rather sit through an exciting 3 hours and 5 minutes than a boring 2 hours and 50 minutes.

What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments, or comment on my @BaseballRuben twitter account.

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