5.16.03: Let's talk about extra outs.
Extra outs are the single most difficult thing
for me to stomach as a baseball fan. Which is why it has been so hard for
me to get on board with this edition of the Boston Red Sox.
Let's look at the extra outs we gave the World
Champion Angels in tonight's 6-5 come-from-way-ahead loss.
First inning: With two outs and a runner on
first, Garrett Anderson hit a hard ground ball right at Nomar Garciaparra.
Nomar - as is so often the case - failed to field the ball cleanly, boxing
it into his breadbasket before corralling it on the ground in plenty of
time to get the force at second on the slow-moving Tim Salmon. The only
problem was second baseman Todd Walker didn't cover the bag. By the time
Nomar recognized this, he didn't have time to recover and throw to first
for the out. Generously - and erroneously, I believe - the official scorer
called this a fielder's choice, figuring you could not charge Nomar with
an error for Walker's mental lapse. But had Nomar fielded the ball cleanly
he would have had plenty of time to either run to second or throw to first
for the out and should therefore have drawn the error, though Walker's
gaffe is still inexcusable.
Top 3rd: Nomar ranged to his left on a ball
bounced up the middle by Adam Kennedy. If he fields it cleanly, it's an
out. But the ball took a tough hop - not the kind that would bother
Vizquel or Ordonez or another soft-handed shortstop - and Nomar bobbled it
and couldn't recover in time to make a throw. Base hit, no error. But the
extra out leads to two earned runs that halve the Red Sox four-run lead.
Top 5th: With a runner on second and no one
out, Garrett Anderson hit a routine ground ball to Todd Walker's left. As
graceful as a drunk uncle dancing to What I Like About You at your
sister's wedding, Walker - who seems incapable of making a routine play
look routine - whiffed on the grounder for his fifth error and
approximately 25th misplay of the young season. This extra out led to two
more runs and a tie game. Does anyone care that Todd Walker doesn't know
how to field a ground ball? He bends at the waist and jabs at the ball,
often with his feet still sliding around. His backside is way too high and
his hands way too hard. He's got to sit down on these balls and provide a
nice, soft, loving environment for that ball. He also struggles around the
bag on the back end with a slow transfer and an average arm. If you don't
believe me, ask Tom Kelly. He may make only 15-20 errors - and lead the
league at his position - but he will give the opposition over 100 extra
Top 8th: Alan Embree gets the lead man Eric
Owens to hit a soft chopper to the right side, a ball that even the worst
right side in Major League Baseball should be able to get an out on. Kevin
Millar, taking his turn in the butcher rotation with David Ortiz at first
base, backed up and ranged to his right, securing the ball in plenty of
time to record an out. But, like Walker in the first, Embree fell asleep
and was late covering the bag. Embree made a gesture that suggested he
thought Millar should have stayed home and let Walker handle the high
chopper. As inexperienced and unsure a first baseman as Millar is, this
one is all Embree's fault. You bust your butt off that mound on anything
to the right side until you're sure that the first baseman has stayed at
the bag. Owens was credited with a base hit and came around to score the
winning run. But not before...
Top 8th (cont'd): Runners on first and third,
nobody out. Adam Kennedy hits a soft liner toward Nomar. If he can snare
it on the fly, he'll hold the go-ahead run at third. If he plays it on a
hop, he'll have an easy 6-4-3 double play. Or... he can stone-hand his
third ball of the night, kick it around and be left with only a force at
second on the runner who had to freeze on the play. Again, no error, but
definitely an extra out. In the ninth, Nomar would finally make a misplay
so egregious - uncorking one of his trademark throws into the stands -
that the official scorer actually charged him with an error, his ninth.
All told, Red Sox pitchers had to get about
five more outs tonight than they would have had to with a sound defensive
team behind them. Add in the fact that we ran into three outs on the bases
and Angel pitchers only had to "earn" 24 outs. (Trot with yet another
blunder on the bases, bailing Ramon Ortiz out in the first. Oh, by the
way, Jeremy Giambi led off the second with a home run.)
This game was played in cold weather against a
quality opponent. This was a glimpse into October. You cannot expect to
beat good teams when their pitchers don't have to get as many outs as your
fragile staff does.
This is not necessarily about errors. It's
about David Ortiz throwing high on a high-probability 3-6-3 DP ball and
forcing Nomar to make a balletic pirouette to record even one out. It's
about Kevin Millar not being able to find the bag with his back foot after
completing the hard part of the 3-6-3 DP. It's about forgetting to cover a
base (why is this not an error). It's about having to dive for a ball that
another second baseman fields on his feet. It's all the little things that
lead to extra outs.
And, make no mistake, extra outs kill your
pitchers and kill your team.