Monday, May 14, 2007

The Monday Softball Diary - 4


Robinson/Paige – 9 FLAMES – 8 (Tuesday)
FLAMES – 9 Drive – 7 (Thursday)

(BOMBERS did not play on Sunday – Mothers Day)

The weekday season is underway and we split our first two games. I’m still kicking myself in the ass over Tuesday’s game. If I do two things differently, we win. If I do just ONE of those two things differently, we at least have a tie game and then who knows?

The reality of the situation is that this is a team game, not a solo event, and some of the other guys have probably had similar thoughts. In a one-run game, it’s easy to find some thing you did and point to it, saying that this is where the game could have been won if I did something differently. But I can’t read the other guys minds, so all I know for sure is what I did.

We were the visiting team for the game against Robinson/Paige (named for Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige, by the way) so we hit first. Pete, our manager, had me in the leadoff spot. I love hitting leadoff. I’ve been doing it for years and I’ve honed my game to make the best use of my skills in that position in the line-up.

In order to be a good leadoff hitter, you’ve got to love stepping into the box against a pitcher who hasn’t established any sort of rhythm. He doesn’t really know yet which of his pitches are on and what sort of control he’s got that day. He’s learned something during his warm-up, but you don’t really know until you’re in the game. The important thing for the leadoff hitter to do is to find out this information as quickly as possible - preferably before the pitcher himself knows. You do this by being patient and looking at what the pitcher has that day. You don’t swing at the first pitch he throws, because then you’re making it easy on him. You’ve learned nothing and he still has his full arsenal available.

I’m a very patient hitter. I very rarely swing at the first pitch and I usually don’t take a swing at all until the pitcher proves to me that he can actually get the ball over the plate. I draw lots of walks, which is a good thing for a leadoff man to do, of course. I pride myself on being able to set the table for the power guys behind me. If I don’t walk, I’m looking to slap the ball someplace – just put it into play and see what the fielders can do with it. I’m proud to say that, in the true leadoff position – that is, start of a game – my on-base percentage is above .600 over the years that I’ve got stats to refer to.

Tuesday, I take a ball, then a strike, another strike, and then I poke the fourth pitch towards right field. It’s a short pop that lands between the second baseman and the right fielder. It then takes a hop towards the foul line. The first baseman, the second baseman, and the right fielder are all chasing it as it bounces into foul territory.

Meanwhile, I’m thinking double. In all the years I’ve played, I’ve always been able to stretch that sort of a hit from a single into a double. Not always a stand-up double, by any means, but I was always fast enough to get to second in front of the throw; even a good throw.

Not this time. The throw was good, I slid, the shortstop made the tag and I was out. Not a question about it; no argument. I was pegged, fair and square. As a result of my thinking that I still had 30-year-old legs instead of 50-year-old legs, we now had nobody on and one out. We should have had no outs and a runner on first. As it turned out, three of the next four guys reached base, one on an error and two via walks. The bases were loaded. If I had been on, I would have scored. Instead, a third out was made and we left the bases loaded, getting nothing. So, I cost us a run there.

(I can rationalize this, of course. It was a hustle play. I was trying to make something happen, which isn’t altogether bad. I’ve got to know my current limitations, though, and I just don’t have the speed I used to. Lesson learned for next time.)

The other instance happened defensively. In the bottom of the first, they have a runner on second with one out. I’m playing first base. There’s a grounder to short. He grabs it, looks the runner back, and then fires to me. As soon as he releases the ball, the runner takes off for third. I see this and get ready to throw over to third as soon as I get the ball. So far, so good.

I took my foot off of the bag early, trying to get the throw off. Safe at first and safe at third, too, because my throw was lousy. I could have had the sure out at first, left them with a runner on third with two outs, and trusted my pitcher to get the next guy. Or I could have released the bag early on purpose, set myself and made a good throw, getting the lead runner. This would have left them with a man on first with two outs. Instead, I got greedy and gave them first and third with only one out. The next guy walks, loading the bases, and the batter behind him singles and drives in two - the only two they get in the inning. If I had taken the sure out, they would have had only one run.

So, two plays where I cost us a run each time – and we lost by one run.

Later, I singled again and scored. So, I went 2-for-4 and my game that night wasn’t a total disaster, but mental mistakes just eat me up inside. I hate playing dumb.

******************************************************************

Better news on Thursday. We won our first game of the season, 9 – 7. Jack Atton pitched a whale of a game for us, striking out 7 over the course of 6 innings. My own contribution was neither here nor there. I entered the game defensively in the bottom of the third. Offensively, I walked once and struck out looking once, on a 3 and 2 pitch.

There’s not too much more boring than a guy complaining about a called third strike, but the ump that night was calling pitches across the shins. He did it all night, for both sides, so I can’t rightfully whine a lot. The problem is this: I’ve worked for 40+ years to know my true strike zone. At this late date, I can’t throw that discipline out the window and pull the trigger on that bad of a pitch. If I had swung at it, got lucky and reached base, it’s a wash. That’s what should happen with the walk. If I swung at it and made an out, I’d never forgive myself for doing the boneheaded thing in that situation. What if the ump called it what it should be, a ball? I can more easily live with the bad strike call than I can with the bad decision on my part.

Enough about me. There were some really great performances in this game.

I already mentioned Jack. He was fairly overpowering at times. Half of their hits were of the seeing-eye variety. Every time the situation got tight, Jack got just a little bit extra on his fastball and mowed them down. He struck out 7 and walked none.

Dave Vargas hit a monster grand slam in the first inning, making it a 6-0 game at that point. We never trailed.

Defensively, Mike Minchoff - our catcher – had as good a game as I’ve seen in a couple of years. He got out of his squat and ranged far up the line a couple of times for pop-ups. He also tracked two more down behind the plate. And he stood his ground and made just about a perfect tag play on an attempted sac fly. Having caught for many years, I really admired the game he had. It was almost perfect. I have to say “almost” because of the last play of the game. Great story.

We’re up by three runs going into their last at bat. Jack, doing what a good pitcher should be doing in that situation, rears back and puts the ball over the plate. You don’t screw around nibbling with a three run lead, maybe giving them a couple of cheap walks. You challenge them. OK, so he gives up back-to-back doubles to start the inning. It’s now a two run lead. Time to get cagey again.

He fools the next guy, popping him up to short left. Mike Vasseller, our shortstop, makes a real nice back-to-the-plate catch. One out. The following batter singles cleanly. Men on first and third. The winning run is now at the plate. Jack once again reaches deep and strikes him out. Two down.

Jack works the count to two strikes on the next man. This guy then hits a towering fly to deep left. Their bench erupts. They think they’ve won the game on a miracle three-run homer. However, Carl Hyman, our left fielder, races back as far and as fast as he possibly can, up against the stands in left, reaches high and catches it as he’s leaning into the first row. Now we’re all laughing and celebrating. Great catch by Carl. Ball game.

When we get back to the bench, we hear the rest of the story.

The signal for a change-up was four fingers, waggled back and forth. Jack had looked in for the signal, saw the four fingers, and thought Mike wanted a change-up. Jack thought, “OK, I’ve got two strikes on him, he’s probably anxious to get onto the pitch quickly, so he should be way out in front of it. Good call.” Jack winds and throws the change-up. Of course, the batter walloped it - as described previously - and we were saved by a great catch.

Here’s what happened: Mike had some dirt on his pants and he rubbed it off just as Jack was looking in for the signal. To Jack, it looked like the signal for the change-up. It wasn’t. It was dirty pants. Mike wanted the fastball. Jack already threw the change. Oops!

So, the moral of the story? Sometimes you do something wrong and you get what you deserve – see game one. Sometimes, not so much – see game two.

This coming week, Tuesday and Thursday with the Flames and a doubleheader on Sunday with the Bombers. See you next Monday with the results and (I hope) no more mea culpas.

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