Carlos Quentin and Yonder Alonso lead off the second with line-drive singles against Brewers right-hander Marco Estrada. After Chris Denorfia walks on four pitches to load the bases, Jedd Gyorko smokes Estrada’s first offering… right into the waiting glove of shortstop Jean Segura, who flips to second to nail Alonso for the double play.
This spawns a lively Twitter discussion that focuses on whether or not Gyorko should have swung at the first pitch after a four-pitch walk. One contingent asserts that a batter should never swing in this situation; the other contends that the decision should be dependent on additional factors, such as where the pitch is located and whether the batter believes he has a better chance to drive it than subsequent pitches that might follow.
Estrada’s pitch to Gyorko is a 90-mph fastball down in the zone, out over the plate. It’s a pitch he can and nearly did punish.
Still, the discussion raises an interesting philosophical question. Do we grab what is in front of us now, in the belief (perhaps based in fear) that it might be the best we ever get? Or do we wait, in the hope of something better? What if something better never comes? Can we live with the regret?
In 2012, whether the first pitch of a plate appearance was a ball or a strike had significant implications:
This jibes with evidence provided by Retrosheet founder David W. Smith, who presented a study on the importance of strike one (PDF) at SABR37 that is well worth reading if you have the time. Among his conclusions were these:
- The first pitch shouldn’t be too good, since batters do very well when putting the 0-0 pitch into play.
- Long and very short pitch strings are both very favorable to the batter.
All pitches are not created equal, of course, so it is incumbent on the batter to consider the variables and answer for himself the philosophical question previously posed. Does he grab it? Or does he wait? He must decide, in a fraction of a second, the correct moral action and then execute one of two plays: swing or take. If the batter is not prepared to make such a decision, does he even belong in the lineup?
These are all fascinating questions that sidestep an even more important one: What the hell was Alonso doing out there at second base? It’s impressive that his “speed” allowed him to stray far enough from the bag to be picked off on the play, but that can’t happen. Baserunners are taught to freeze on a line drive, and while Alonso’s default setting is freeze, there he was… floating around, killing a rally.
There are two sides to the Gyorko swing/take issue. There is one side to the Alonso baserunning issue: Don’t do that. While the former lends itself to philosophical musings, the latter is just irritating.
* * *
With one out in the fifth, Nick Hundley “singles” to second base. He hits a pop fly into the glove of Rickie Weeks, who drops the ball. Weeks is not charged with an error, although he will fix that two pitches later.
After fouling off his first bunt attempt, Edinson Volquez lays one down in front of home plate, toward the third-base side. Catcher Jonathan Lucroy pounces on it and fires to first, retiring Volquez, with Weeks covering. Hundley then tries to reach a vacated third base before Segura can.
Weeks guns the ball across the diamond to… nobody. It trickles down the left-field line, with Hundley scoring easily. It’s a heads-up play by Hundley, and a complete collapse by the Milwaukee defense.
* * *
The game ends on a play that is scored “catcher unassisted.” Brewers first baseman Martin Maldonado grounds an 0-1 pitch from Huston Street in front of the plate and begins running toward first. The ball is in fair territory. So is Maldonado. The two objects collide, game over.
Manager Ron Roenicke disagrees with home plate umpire Paul Emmel and comes out to argue, but the men in black are walking off the field, the Padres are slapping high fives, and awful music is blaring through the PA. There is nothing to discuss. Congrats on the nine-game winning streak, now it’s done. Go start another one in some other town.
* * *
Three separate events, all connected. If the Padres score a run after loading the bases with nobody out in the second (you’re supposed to score a little more than two in that situation), they don’t need Hundley’s heroics in the fifth.
But with Milwaukee plating a run of its own in the ninth, Hundley’s decision to grab what was in front of him provides the margin of victory. Without his actions, maybe the Padres don’t improve to 6-15. Maybe instead they continue to hope for something better, as if hope were enough to win ballgames.
* * *