I join many others in giving MLB hitters a hard time. The need to lift and drive has added an untenable amount of strikeouts to the game, and it can be frustrating watching guys simply pound contact right into a gaggle of fielders shifted over. But we also try to defend them as best we can, given the devil’s craftsmanship that they have to face on a nightly basis. Not only do starters come equipped with ICBM fastballs exploding out of their hands or sliders that audibly crack the sky as they dive toward freedom, they then have to deal with two or three relievers who are specifically manufactured to burn bright and fast and go out in a hero’s death on a thunderstorm of velocity and spin.
Hitters do the best they can with what they’re asked to face, and have adjusted in the only way they can. Make the loudest contact you can on the few times you actually can get ash to cowhide. Last night was a stark reminder of the mountain they have to climb.
Felix Bautista of the Orioles hasn’t been in the majors long, this being his rookie season. In just slightly over four months, he’s become one of the more feared relievers in the game, with a 102-mph fastball and a splitter that seems to alter the rotation of the Earth. He also might have the coolest entrance for a closer this side of the Mets’ Edwin Diaz.
Part of the fear is that Bautista doesn’t exactly have pinpoint control all the time, though his walk numbers aren’t bad at all. You don’t have to paint corners with 102 or with that splitter. You just have to be in the area. The White Sox learned firsthand, especially Jose Abreu.
Bautista was brought in in the 8th inning last night, with a two-run lead but the Sox rallying, to get five outs. He struck out Luis Robert easily enough, but that’s when things got a little ropey.
First, at 2-2 on Eloy Jimenez, Bautista sent a 102-mph fastball to the backstop, and it hit the screen so hard it bounced right back to catcher Adley Rutschman, not allowing the runner from third to score. The very next pitch…
Sure, it might have got Jimenez on the pad, but they don’t make a pad for 102. And out of the game went Jimenez.
Which meant that Abreu came to the plate, already knowing he was facing one of the nastiest relievers in baseball, and he’d just watched from the on-deck circle as this lunatic sent one fastball 10 feet high and the next one burrowing a hole into his teammate’s arm like it was looking for oil. And the Sox needed the runs on the basepaths!
There isn’t a tougher task in sports than having to regularly get bat to ball, and solidly. This is why a 7/10 fail rate is considered world-class. And these guys do it every night facing this type of voodoo. And on an occasional night, they have to complete a task like Abreu’s, which is stepping into the box late in a game the White Sox really need to win, down two, bases loaded, against some of the best stuff there is and now you’re convinced that there’s a small chance that stuff isn’t going to allow you to walk safely back to the dugout. While professional hitters long ago lost that fear the rest of us had for that brief instant as a pitcher releases a baseball where you ask, “Is this going to be in my teeth?” that doesn’t mean it doesn’t lurk in the deep recesses. How can you know where the baseball is going when the guy hurling it doesn’t? Indiana Jones knows fuck all about a leap of faith.
Abreu, bravely, got a count full before striking out swinging on a fastball above the zone. I’m just impressed he didn’t pull a John Kruk and go on about his day. There will be other ABs.
But that’s the job, stand in there and try to make contact against a violently hurled rock with only a semblance of direction and motive. What a way to run a railroad.
On the positive side of the ledger, here’s Aaron Judge defining the word “torque” for those unfamiliar:
Listen closely and you can hear the baseball impersonating a screaming Mimi. It’s probably a little more desperate than the normal, subtle wail, because what sound would you make if you were being projected into a group of people who sit in the Yankees outfield?