Friday, June 15, 2007

The Monday Softball Diary - 9

Warriors - 16 FLAMES - 6
Warriors - 21 FLAMES - 10

Yuck. The less said about this week in Flames history, the better.

(That won't stop me from going on for about 1,500 words, though. If you're a sadist, you might enjoy it.)

Two games lost by 10 and 11 runs leaves a lot of blame to pass around, but it's my habit here to only name folks when they do something good. The only exception I make is myself. If I fuck up, I'll name names.

Time to name names.

On Tuesday, with the score 8 - 5, I came up in the fifth inning with the bases loaded, two outs. Big man that I am, with my gaudy on-base percentage, I should be expected to get one or two runs home. I grounded into a weak 4 - 6 fielder's choice. If I delivered in that situation, maybe we stay in the game. Instead, we just died, outscored 8 - 1 the rest of the way.

I finished up 1 of 2, with a walk, but the important at-bat of the three, I didn't get the job done. God, how I hate that.

I pulled a muscle before the game, while doing some running. That's not an excuse. I just mention it because it has a bearing on the story I tell for the next game. Anyway, something kind of popped in my lower abdomen. Not a groin pull, but close to that area. It hurt like hell when I had to run. By Wednesday morning, I was walking almost doubled over. Whenever I straightened up, it hurt.

Comes Thursday and I'm feeling much better. I can walk normally, at least, so I tell Peter that I can play if I absolutely have to do so; if we have less than nine guys by game time. As it turns out, that was the case. I started the game at catcher.

By the bottom of the second, a couple of other guys showed up, so I pulled myself from the game. That was bonehead move #1 for me that night. I had forgotten that we had some options available to us, concerning positioning, if I stayed in the game. When I went out, those options were lost. I'll explain.

Because of the lack of players, we had to start old friend 79-year-old Bob Ridley at pitcher. Nothing necessarily wrong with that. As I've related here before, Bobby is a good pitcher. However, he wasn't at the top of his game Thursday. It happens. No pitcher is on every time out. We had Jason Atton and Jack Atton available to relieve him, but because I put myself on the bench, we had to leave Bobby in the game. And that meant either he continued pitching or we move him to second base, not a position he's totally comfortable with at this late stage in his career. If I was still catching, we could have moved either Jay or Jack onto the mound and had someone else man second. Nope. I screwed that up.

(Pete was temporarily absent at the time. If he had been there, I have no doubt he would have had his head more into the game than I did. I was too preoccupied with saving my body. I wasn't hurting a whole hell of a lot just then, but I knew I had the potential to aggravate the muscle pull. I could have stayed in and taken it easy. Weighing all options, having me as an immobile catcher and basically an out in the line-up was preferable to what we ended up with.)

Bonehead move #2 occurred a couple of innings later.

By this time, another player had arrived, Bobby was out of the game, and Jason was pitching. We were down, but the game was still in the realm of possibility. A couple of men on (2nd & 3rd) with one out. The Warrior's batter steps to the plate. I pop up from the bench and call for time out.

See, one of the Warriors had hit two home runs in his first two at-bats. Just croaked both of them. I see no sense in pitching to this batter when we have first base open. It gets him out of the way, sets up the force play all around - sensible move. I tell the ump to put the batter on. He walks down to first.

I had the wrong batter.

The man I intended to walk - the guy with the two home runs - had just batted. Jay actually popped him up. And Jay was trying his damnedest to yell at me that I had the wrong guy, but I was an idiot and ignored him, insisting I was right.

Of course, Jay walked the next guy, forcing in a run. They scored another four before the inning was over.

How in hell could I have my head so far up my ass TWICE in one game?

Losing by as many runs as we did, both nights, I know I'm not the only one to blame. But maybe, just maybe, if I get the hit on Tuesday and on Thursday I just SHUT THE FUCK UP AND LET SOMEONE ELSE BE THE MANAGER, we keep close enough to have a different outcome. Maybe; maybe not. But I sure didn't help the team any, that's for sure.

Flames Statistics

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

Sunday is a day of redemption in many religions. I needed redemption from my softball sins of Thursday. I pretty much got it with my personal performance, but I would have traded my softball soul for a win.

Renegades – 17 BOMBERS – 6
Renegades – 20 BOMBERS – 19

The three things that tell the story of the Bombers as a team are the 17 and the 20 next to the Renegades name and the 19 next to ours in the second game. This team can hit, but sometimes it seems like they’re wearing batting gloves at their fielding positions, too.

The good stuff: Youth Of America (Chris Moore) hit another home run. As a matter of fact, he went 4 for 4 in game two. Jason Atton slammed his fourth homer of the season, taking the team lead in that category. Jason’s uncle (and our manager) Jack Atton also had a home run. Ron Johnson had a perfect first game, 2 for 2, with a double and a walk. Insofar as my own performance is concerned, I went 3 for 6, plus a walk. I got my head back into a decent place.

There were plenty of accolades to be handed out concerning our hitting, no doubt about it. We made one hell of a nice comeback, again. After trailing by scores of 14 – 3 and 17 – 8 in game two, we came all the way back and took a lead at 19 – 17, before dropping the game 20 -19. An offense that scores 19 runs in a game is sweet. A defense that gives up 20 in the same game (and is averaging giving up 18 a game for the season) is about as far from sweet as you can get.

We’re hitting well enough to win this league. I know for a fact we have the best pitching staff in the league. Usually, you combine those two things and you smell a championship. Instead, we’re sitting in 6th place at 2 and 4.

You look at those scores and you have to be saying to yourself, “How can Sully say that this pitching staff is the best in the league?” Let me assure you that it is. With our hitting, we should be coasting. We should be laughing out loud every Sunday. I’ve watched Jack Atton and Jason Atton for 8 or 9 years. These guys both have a track record of giving up 10 runs less a game than they’re giving up this year. It’s not their pitching that’s doing them in. And I’ve only seen Sandy pitch this year, really, but he’s solid, too. Nope. No problem with the pitching or the hitting. But the defense is...

There isn’t any one thing I can point at and say, “If we do such-and-such differently, we might have won.” It’s been a death of a hundred little cuts, as opposed to one savage blow. A dinker here, a bad break on a ball by an outfielder there, then a grounder a couple of inches under an infielder’s glove, then a walk, then a pop fly out of reach of two outfielders and turned into two runs by a bad throw.

There’s something fundamentally flawed with our defense, something that goes beyond a lack of skill. What I mean is that we have some guys without great range, and some guys who are just plain shaky, but beyond that we have a whole bunch of guys who don’t quite know where to play. And what I mean by that is that we have guys playing six steps too deep in the outfield and guys playing the infield for lefthanders the same as they do for the righties and stuff like that. Add to that a few guys with a fear of trying for the big play. They pull up on flies that they might catch on the shoe tops with a dead run and they hold the ball at second base rather than pivoting to risk a throw to first for a close double play.

(I’m not saying I’m a perfect glove man. However, I think I’m fundamentally sound. I very rarely say to myself, after a batter has hit, “Geez, Jim, you should have been three steps over that way.” Not never, mind you, but very rarely.

I’m constantly adjusting my positioning. During an at-bat I’ll move around according to the count, to where the batter’s feet are in the box, to the arc of his previous swings, on whether or not he’s snuck a peak down my way [if a right-handed batter] and depending upon my pitcher’s velocity. I’ll also adjust according to where my teammates are. That is, if my rightfielder is playing deep and I think there might be a chance of the batter trying to serve one over my head, I’ll cheat a couple of steps back to the outfield grass. If my second baseman is shading towards me on the same play, I’ll take another step or two back, since he’ll possibly reach one to my right that I’d have a shot at if he weren’t shading.

If I’m not looking to cut a hitter’s angle to the outfield, I’ll always grab as much range to my right as possible, at least on a right-handed batter. What I mean is that I’ll go as far away from the bag as I judge I possibly can while still being able to get to the bag for a throw on a grounder. It’s a rare right-handed batter who can hit a wormburner down the line and beat me that way. So, I’ll start as far out to my right as I can. And unless it’s a liner that I might snag by diving right, that leaves me with only one option, which is to go to my left. That way, I’m covering every possible inch of my range right from the get go.

Now, if I’m playing first base, then obviously those tricks aren’t going to work for anybody else. The point, though, is that there are positioning tricks like that available for every man on the field. You just have to think about it a bit to find them. And some of our guys are either not thinking or they’re so inexperienced at their positions that they’re still working to master the basics and they’re playing a bit scared because of that.)

That was one damn long parenthetical thought, huh? Well, that’s what it is out on the field, too. I’m constantly inputting data. Not always consciously, of course, but it’s always filtering in.

Some of our guys, though, are like frozen computers and no matter how much someone else hits the keys nothing is getting through. I saw at least two instances where Jason (pitching in game two) had the ball in his hand following a throw from the outfield and when he looked to an infielder for a possible play, he got absolutely no response; not even a flicker of recognition that the man with the ball was looking his way, ready to wing it if he thought he had a chance to surprise the runner. There were two other instances where Jason got the ball back from his catcher, after a called ball or strike, and he wanted to take a shot at a runner slowly returning to the bag at second with his head down. Nobody else saw that the runner was ripe for the picking but Jay.

As well as having a thought of your own, you’ve got to make the other team think, too. Even if Jason doesn’t pick off that runner, now you’ve got a man who won’t stray so far from the bag and that might save you a run when he’s a step behind a good throw to the plate, instead of his being a step ahead of it because nobody bothered him while he was on second. I’ll occasionally duck in behind a runner at first, as though I’m looking for a snap throw from my catcher, even when I know damn well the catcher hasn’t looked my way all game. You can bet your ass that runner will take a half step less on his next lead.

Well, I don’t want to get down on this team too hard. Even with whatever flaws there are, this is a fun team to play ball with. With the hitting prowess we’ve displayed, we’re never going to be out of too many games. We have the capability of coming back from double-digit deficits. The shame of it is we have the capability of putting our opposition INTO double-digit deficits and we haven’t done it yet. We have ten more chances to mature into the team we can be, before the playoffs. Here’s hoping we do.

Bombers Statistics

No comments: