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NL West: Not just for emergencies
It was the once-a-decade event that haunts managers' psyches.
Save your backup catcher until the last possible moment, we're told, because you don't want to see him to get hurt and end up scrambling for an emergency backstop.
Friday night in San Francisco scrambled the Giants like their morning eggs. They took out their starting catcher in the fifth inning and lost their backup catcher to injury in the 10th, compounding the problem by having no position players left on the bench, thus forcing infielder Pedro Feliz behind the plate (along with outfielder Randy Winn to third base and pitcher Noah Lowry into the outfield).
Emergency catchers in major-league games are rarer than no-hitters, triple plays and cycles, but managers still manage in fear of them most of the time. It was almost as shocking to see Giants skipper Bruce Bochy throw caution to the wind as it was to see the wind blow it back in his face.
"Back in the 19th century, pretty much everybody was an emergency catcher because the catcher didn't wear a glove, the catcher didn't wear much protective equipment aside from a mask and there was not unlimited substitution," said Bob Timmermann, keeper of the clever historical and observational baseball site The Griddle. "So sometimes a catcher would get a broken finger and there was no one to replace him, or the manager/team captain would think that his bat was still important so they'd stick him in the outfield somewhere and move someone else behind the plate."
Timmermann went on to say that of course, often "this didn't work out well and you would see teams giving up lots of passed balls," noting that Alex Gardner, who caught one game for Washington of the AA in 1884, is credited by the Sporting News with a major-league record 12 in one game.
In the past 50 years, however, the number of emergency catchers used in a major-league game has been slight. Occasionally, injury isn't even an issue -- the catchers-of-the-last-resort were just the result of a manager going for broke trying to rally his losing team by pinch-hitting for his last catcher and succeeding. Pinch-hitting legend Manny Mota, for example, caught the only game of his career on July 13, 1964 in such a situation, though Timmermann said that Mota regularly warmed up pitchers. After a passed ball in the top of the 11th, Mota nearly won the game with a double in the bottom of the 11th, only to contribute to a 12th-inning loss with a second passed ball.
Injuries certainly play a part. One of the treasured memories of my baseball childhood came in April 1980, when injuries to regular Dodger catchers Steve Yeager and Joe Ferguson forced utilityman Derrell Thomas into the eighth position of his career. Thomas ended up catching in five games in a row, including three complete games in which the Dodgers won two, before Los Angeles finally called up Mike Scioscia to make his major-league debut. Meeting Thomas for the first time in the Dodger Stadium press box last summer, I reveled in the opportunity to bond with him over this memory.
Still, the most famous emergency catcher in baseball history is probably Lenn Sakata, who made his debut behind the plate in the 10th inning of a tie game against Toronto in August 1983. In the Blue Jays' explicable eagerness to run on Sakata, they somewhat inexplicably took such reckless leads that Orioles pitcher Tippy Martinez picked off three runners in a row. Sakata then hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the 10th to win the game.
I'll admit I always look forward to seeing an emergency catcher just for the novel excitement or exciting novelty of it, but that's not the reason that it burns me to see managers keep their backup catcher out of a game when they could benefit from using him. You really can't let yourself forget that needing an emergency catcher is the baseball equivalent of getting hit by lightning (don't hold me to the math -- it's just a metaphor).
In retrospect, Bochy's decision to remove starting catcher Bengie Molina in a fifth-inning double-switch might seem reckless. But, at the time, the Giants had already fallen into last place in the NL West, eight games behind Bochy's former team, the San Diego Padres. If Bochy felt that removing Molina gave him a better chance to win the game, there's no way he should have let fear of injury to backup batteryman Eliezer Alfonzo forestall him.
Managers should keep the same go-for-broke attitude in mind. The chances your last catcher getting hurt are slim, and the worst thing that will happen as a result is probably going to be a great story to tell.
After sleeping off (Friday) night's travesty of a ballgame, I'm now a little more even tempered. This team has worn me out and the third month of the season isn't even half over yet. With an utter lack of execution in key spots, teams are making the Giants pay for mistakes, while young ballclubs like the Padres, Dodgers, and D-Backs continue to roll. At the same time, with all this age and rickety behavior on behalf of the Giants, they still manage to have one of the best starting rotations in baseball, which spells good years to come in the future.
"You'll have to excuse me if I see the glass still as half empty," Donohue wrote Friday. "The Rockies have had stretches in each of the past few seasons where they've gotten within hailing distance of .500. This year and the last, these warm patches have been driven predominantly by a sudden spike of effectivness in starting pitching. No matter what the engine, if it's any time after the start of summer vacation, it's a tease until proven otherwise with this club. An interleague series in Baltimore might afford the team the opportunity to reach that magical break-even point for an ephemeral day or two (in fact, it got Colorado to 31-32) before the Rockies have to move on to Boston and face reality: They're still not very good."
In the past two weeks, the Dodgers have called up youngsters Hong-Chih Kuo, Matt Kemp and James Loney in an effort to jumpstart a team that fell from first place to third.
Labels: NL West
posted by SI.com | View comments |
It was only a matter of time before the youngsters got their call back to the big show, but I'm hoping they actually get a chance to stay. I project Kemp more as a RF than a CF, and whatever range Ethier lacks in comparison to Pierre he makes for it with the routes he takes. Don't even get me started on Pierre's noodle-arm -- the guy makes Johnny Damon look like Roberto Clemente -- and we haven't even gotten to Pierre's woes at the plate. Maybe we can see an outfield of Gonzo-Ethier-Kemp? Other than Schmidt's consistent inconsistency, Pierre has been the biggest disappointment this year.
from da boy vince
sounds like the phillies a little except for the good pitching(except Hamels and Myers)
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