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Working the count

 
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dodgerblue6



Joined: 10 Aug 2005
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Location: San Diego CA - deep in the heart of SoCal

PostPosted: Mon 8/20/07 11:58 pm    Post subject: Working the count Reply with quote

One quality of a good hitter that doesn't show up in the box scores or stats sheet leaders is the ability to work the count.

An at-bat can't be rushed; it's as much about the timing and "staying alive" as it is about the pitch thrown. These are the nuances non-baseball fans don't notice when watching a game.

Does anyone here remember being at a game in which a very long at-bat changed the course of a game, or at the very least made some subtle difference? For me, and many other Dodger fans, that thought evokes Alex Cora's AB during a Dodgers-Cubs game at OLOCR in 2004. Over the course of 17 pitches, Cora fouled off 13 before driving the 18th pitch off Matt Clement into the right field pavilion. One of the funniest things I've seen on a broadcast was the reaction of the other Dodgers in the dugout and their reactions. Paul LoDuca and Cesar Izturis were cracking up as Cora stayed alive, pitch after pitch, and finally hit the bomb. The Dodgers eventually won the game.

It's always interesting in these cases to see who gets the best of these head-to-head duels. Sometimes, however, it isn't always so clear just who wins.

Two more recent examples involved games played this past weekend. One occurred when Anaheim was playing Boston in Fenway Park on Friday night, as the Angels' young Reggie Willits stepped in to pinch hit against new Red Sox closer Eric Gagne.

Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times describes very well the impact that one offensive out made for the team that was batting.


BOSTON -- Clop, clop, clop they went, bouncing through the rainy New England night like hooves on cobblestone, familiar sounds of warning in an unfamiliar shape.

Foul balls. Seven of them. From the bat off a sawed-off Angels hitter against the arm of a giant Red Sox pitcher.

Reggie Willits against Eric Gagne. Game little fella against Game Over.

It was the start of the ninth inning Friday, the Angels were three outs from a second loss in seven hours, moments from being swept out of a doubleheader and into a dark corner of doubt.

In stepped Willits. And here came those foul balls.

Off the press box window. Off the upper deck seats. Off the wall down the left field line. Into the dugout. Up through the stands. Fogging goggles. Messing with a mind.

With the count 2-and-2, Willits hit two foul balls. One pitch later, he began a string of five consecutive foul balls.

After 10 pitches, Manager Mike Scioscia saw that figure on the scoreboard.

"I thought it was a misprint," he said.

After a dozen pitches, on-deck hitter Casey Kotchman was looking for a chair.

"I wasn't counting pitches, but I know was I standing there a long, long time," he said.

Finally, on the 13th pitch, Willits flied out.

"But it was not just any out," said batting coach Mickey Hatcher.

Four batters later, the freshly empowered Angels had scored three runs to steal the lead because of that out.

A half-inning later, a beaten and exhausted Gagne was booed to the banks of the Charles River, and the Angels had stolen a 7-5 victory because of that out.

If the Angels survive these final six weeks to breathe in October, their season's most important single stroke of the bat will be that out.

"Huge," said teammate Gary Matthews Jr. late Friday as he stared around a quickly emptied clubhouse, the Angels fleeing the scene before the Red Sox realized what happened. "That out was just huge."

A day that started with a miserable 8-4 loss had ended in a weary triumph.

The hot August duel between the teams with baseball's best two records had ended in a draw.

A doubleheader split left the Angels feeling as if they had done the splits, again and again, but they had somehow ended on their feet.

"A relief to me," said Matthews. "Now I won't have to think about this the rest of the night."

He wouldn't have to think about how ace John Lackey was pounded in the first game, and stoppers Frankie Rodriguez and Scot Shields were pounded in the second game.

He wouldn't have to think about a day filled with dropped balls by Angels fielders, 18 strikeouts by Angels hitters, and a wild pitch that scored a key run when it bounced past an Angels catcher making his second big league start.

He wouldn't even have to think about the most heavily accented chants in sports, one that filled the ancient park for parts of nine hours -- "Let's Go Red Sawwwwwwx."

Mike Scioscia, who never shakes his head, shook his head.

"That's about as much of a roller coaster as you can be on," he said.

The rookie Willits and his buzz haircut were in the front car, hands in the air, mouth agape.

In the first game, he struck out three times, grounded into a double play and tentatively played a fly ball that led to a six-run Red Sox inning.

In the second game, he watched from the bench as the Angels relievers blew a 4-1 lead in the eighth inning to fall behind, 5-4, entering the ninth.

Figuring he might be needed as a pinch-hitter, he began running the creaky wooden runway between the dugout and the concourse.

"I was just hoping I didn't break my leg," he said.

Knowing Willits' best value is in his ability to work long counts, Scioscia used him as a pinch-hitter to start the inning against Gagne, who had lost in consecutive appearances since being traded here recently from Texas.

Already, the former Dodger's confidence and concentration were weakening. Then, by working the count so long, Willits pounded the last bits of starch out of both of them.

He hit so many foul balls, it sounded as if someone were throwing a rock around the stadium. This may not be 2002, but that was certainly every bit of David Eckstein.

Said Rodriguez: "To have to face one batter that long, it really affects your concentration."

Said Hatcher: "I really think it took something out of Gagne."

Said Willits: "I'm just scratching and clawing, because that's all I can do."

Kotchman followed Willits by drawing a walk on five pitches. Then Chone Figgins grounded a single into right field. Then Orlando Cabrera poked a single into left field for a run.

Then Vladimir Guerrero banged a ball into left-center field for two more runs, and all angst broke lose.

A water bottle sailed from the Fenway Park stands and landed at Gagne's feet. Boos from the damp and angry fans showered his head. His Red Sox earned-run average had ballooned to 15.00, and he eventually left the park without comment.

In the Angels' dugout, Willits saw little of it, as he was being swarmed by a team that understands.

"That's what Reggie does," said Scioscia. "He finds a way. He sets the table. That's him."

Without a power hitter on the bench, with only one legitimate power hitter in the lineup, the Angels require players like Willits.

For them to have a chance in October against the richer lineups in Detroit and Boston, they will require moments like Friday night's.

As the mumbling fans filed away, the Red Sox organist played, "You Gotta Have Heart."

It is uncertain whether these Angels really possess such a thing. But on seven occasions Friday, a kid's bat created something that sounded like a beat.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

It was only two days later, in the sunshine of Chavez Ravine, that Colorado's Cory Sullivan stepped in against Brad Penny with Kaz Matsui on first base, and the Rockies trailing, 2-1. As I watched the game on TV, Sullivan fouled off a succession of foul balls and I immediately thought "Cora, 2004" just before Vin, as if reading my mind, asked, "Does this remind you of Alex Cora, in a game against the Cubs a few years ago?" Foul ball after foul ball, Matsui took a lead off first and began running on the pitch. After seven or eight returns to first base, Vin remarked that "Any minute now, Matsui's going to hire someone to run for him." Penny, laboring in the heat, continued to mix his pitches until he finally got Sullivan to fly out on the 17th pitch, appearing to win the battle. But, while it didn't work into a victory for the Rockies, it clearly factored into Grady Little's early call to the bullpen, as Penny's pitch count was higher than usual by the fifth inning, and he was pitching on three days' rest.

Vin mentioned that the face-off between the two required over seven minutes of time.

When Sullivan came up two innings later, Matsui was on base again, but ironically, this time Sullivan required only one pitch to be retired, as he swung on the first, and flied out again. That's baseball! Shocked

Matsui stole second moments later, and Vin said, "The Rockies are thinking, 'it's about time.' "
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Last edited by dodgerblue6 on Tue 8/21/07 12:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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crzblue



Joined: 11 Aug 2005
Posts: 1847
Location: Dodgerland, CA

PostPosted: Tue 8/21/07 12:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Does anyone here remember being at a game in which a very long at-bat changed the course of a game, or at the very least made some subtle difference? For me, and many other Dodger fans, that thought evokes Alex Cora's AB during a Dodgers-Cubs game at OLOCR in 2004. Over the course of 17 pitches, Cora fouled off 13 before driving the 18th pitch off Matt Clement into the right field pavilion
.

yes, I was at that game when Cora had that at bat. I was sitting in the field level seats, LF.

I read the L.A. Times and I could only feel bad for Gagne. You know I have no love for the Anaheim Rats.

Penny won the battle with Sullivan, but yes at the expense of his pitch count. Not sure that it was a good idea to have Penny pitch last Sunday. I rather have him face both the Phillies and the Mets. This way he is only going to face one of those teams. I hope Tomko is up to the challenge of facing the Phillies.
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IlliniAmy
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PostPosted: Tue 8/21/07 5:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Actually, at the game I attended at Wrigley yesterday, Brendan Ryan had a lengthy at-bat (13 pitches) before striking out. It didn't beat my personal record though. I once sat through a 14-pitch Edgar Renteria at-bat. The only other thing I remember about it is that he reached base, but I don't remember how.
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Nurse Cozmo



Joined: 08 Aug 2007
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Location: SoCal San Diego

PostPosted: Tue 8/21/07 12:11 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
Does anyone here remember being at a game in which a very long at-bat changed the course of a game, or at the very least made some subtle difference?


Yes, the first Home Opener at Petco Park. The Padres had a 1-0 lead over San Francisco in the top of the ninth. Hoffman had one of his uncharacteristic blown saves (I feel like I'm always there to see them though) and by the bottom of the ninth the Giants were leading 2-1. Greene singled to start the bottom half and then reached second on a sacrifice. I can't remember if there was another out made before Sean Burroughs came to bat, but I remember that he fouled off 11 pitches AFTER there were 2 strikes on him. Finally he connected for a single that scored Greene and that sent the game into extra innings, which the Padres eventually won in the 10th.

The thing I remember the most about it was after about 9 pitches Tony said, "He's really hanging in there, this is a very long at bat." and a girl sitting behind us (you know how many amateurs go to Home Openers ...well imagine not just a Home Opener but also a Ballpark Opener) she said, "Yeah, I mean really ...why is he still up there?! Hasn't he struck out like 3 times already?!" To which all the real fans in the area busted out hard but I happened to be taking a slug of my beer when I couldn't prevent the laugh and beer came out my nose. Not my best moment ...but I'll never forget Sean Burroughs and that AB.

Sean didn't live up to anyone's expectations but he had that one GREAT moment, but I don't think many people remember it. It's true
Quote:
One quality of a good hitter that doesn't show up in the box scores or stats sheet leaders is the ability to work the count.
but don't you think those SABER guys will come up with a stat for it someday?
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dodgerblue6



Joined: 10 Aug 2005
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PostPosted: Tue 8/21/07 4:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
but he had that one GREAT moment, but I don't think many people remember it.


True, he's probably remembered more for being the MVP on that Long Beach team that won the '92 Little League World Series than for anything he's done professionally! In fact, he may be remembered as the only player to play in the majors who was on back-to-back LLWS champions (1992-93). I think that's the last time any U.S. team repeated as champs.

Quote:
and a girl sitting behind us (you know how many amateurs go to Home Openers ...well imagine not just a Home Opener but also a Ballpark Opener) she said, "Yeah, I mean really ...why is he still up there?! Hasn't he struck out like 3 times already?!" To which all the real fans in the area busted out hard but I happened to be taking a slug of my beer when I couldn't prevent the laugh and beer came out my nose.


OMG! Laughing Laughing Laughing that's funny. Maybe I'll have to start a thread about "Amateur Moments." I could share a few myself. They are classic.
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stlred
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PostPosted: Wed 8/22/07 5:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

This baseball gal loves those nuances of the game. I have to since we have David Eckstein on our team. He seems to do that at every at bat. I love it when the other team calls him a pest. It's also good that he is the top of our batting order. You have to love everything about the game or not at all. Like I love pitchers duals if I know I going to win or otherwise it gives me a heartattack(lol) But they sure are fun when it happens for your team. So even things about baseball that I think are nuances are some of the things that make is so much fun.
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dodgerblue6



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PostPosted: Mon 4/23/18 9:02 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I remembered this thread from way, way back--over a decade ago--and pulled it out of mothballs!

Yesterday, Jints first baseman Brandon Belt hung in there for a 21-pitch at-bat vs. Angels pitcher Jaime Barria, in the first inning of the game in Anaheim--the longest AB since record-keeping began on this stat--and eclipsed 13 minutes of the game.

No Alex Cora-style drama to complete it, though--after all was said and done, Belt flied out to right.

Here's the recap from MLB.com.
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sunnyblue



Joined: 22 Nov 2008
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PostPosted: Mon 4/23/18 3:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I love it when you find these old threads I've never seen before!
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forloveofthegame



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PostPosted: Tue 4/24/18 4:08 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very interesting for sure.

Belt's at bat was one for the ages. I doubt we will ever see that beaten.
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dodgerblue6



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PostPosted: Thu 5/31/18 11:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Well, it's just been a few weeks now, but last Sunday's Astros-Indians game featured a 17-pitch at-bat by Cleveland hitter Jose Ramirez, facing Houston reliever Ken Giles. Ramirez won the battle by doubling.
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dodgerblue6



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PostPosted: Fri 4/26/19 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

During last night's Phillies-Marlins game in Miami, Marlins pitcher Caleb Smith and Phillies batter J.T. Realmuto engaged in a 16-pitch showdown, another one in which the pitcher won the battle. Realmuto struck out after fouling off ten straight full-count pitches.
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