In honor of Shea Hillenbrand, 29 random observations from watching last night's ballgame...
1. Gustavo Chacin was not all that impressive despite a good statistical performance. He only got 10 of 19 first-pitch strikes (not a good ratio) and was generally bailed out by some woeful Tampa hitting. Chacin will need to control the strike zone better against better-hitting teams.
2. Despite my saying that, Chacin started the game with awesome movement on his cutter. He collected eight swinging strikes from just the first four hitters. Getting major league hitters to clean whiff is hard to do.
3. Tampa adjusted after Chacin embarrassed Phelps leading off the second. They started taking everything they possibly could, realizing they weren't all that likely to hit the cutter when it was dancing. In the last 15 hitters Chacin faced, he recorded no swinging strikes.
4. The Blue Jays' defensive positioning was excellent all night. There were 4-5 hard hit balls that went right at outfielders - an absolutely superb job by the coaching staff. I assume that credit should go to Mickey Brantley - if anyone knows who's positioning the outfielders, I'd appreciate hearing from them.
5. Eric Hinske made a fantastic play in the fifth when he went 3-4 steps to his right to snag a bullet liner by Travis Lee. Hinske was already moving on contact (he had to be to be where he was); it was the kind of play that few first basemen would ever make. Carlos Delgado never made that play.
6. Speaking of Delgado, he went 4 for 5 and the Marlins bombed John Smoltz and won 9-0. Delgado drove in three runs; I still think that when the Marlins surprise this year, Delgado will be a natural choice for NL MVP.
7. If anyone's looking for a reason why Tampa can't draw any fans, look no further than that awful heckler. That nonstop yelling is incredibly annoying - I can't imagine wanting to sit anywhere near the guy, and he sits in the good seats! Way to anti-market, guys.
8. The Jays have taken care of business so far. Two games up on the Red Sox already.
9. I was surprised at the lineup, with Adams sitting and Hudson as well. I liked the fact that Hudson came in as soon as the lefty was gone. Gibbons has been quiet but very effective so far.
10. Isn't it great to see relievers throwing two innings, instead of being automatically hooked after they get three outs? It didn't turn out so great for League, but it's good to see the confidence.
11. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Billy Koch - self-parody. It was hilarious watching him in his cheap Aubrey Huff T-shirt jersey, his mouth running nonstop talking to the Jays in the pen. He gave every impression of being stoned - right down to the glassy eyes.
12. Scott Kazmir was extremely impressive. The Jays hitters were very, very tough against him; they worked hard in every at-bat, fouled off a lot of good pitches, and generally put a lot of pressure on him. He handled it very well and threw strikes all night. Not an efficient performance, but definitely a good one.
13. Odds of Sweet Lou launching a 10-minute, 100-expletive rage-fest against some random umpire tomorrow : 6-to-1 against and falling rapidly. If the Jays jump out to an early lead, Phil Cuzzi better break out the asbestos-lined chest protector.
14. That sequence against Seth McClung was superb. Once McClung had opened with balls against Hudson and Wells, and went 2-0 on Koskie, CK5 knew that he could wait for his pitch, and managed to work a walk. Right then, McClung fell apart. Except for Rios, now everyone was spotted a 2-0 count, and they all waited for their pitch. A beautiful sequence of situational hitting.
15. Brandon League was firing aspirins in the sixth inning. Are you *kidding* me with that fastball? He wasn't wild at all in the sixth; he was right around the strike zone all the time, just not getting calls. And the ball was moving really well, though not at all like Chacin or Batista's cutter. League's cutter moves almost straight sideways most of the time. In the seventh, he did get wild.
16. Speaking of guys not getting calls, it seemed to me that C.B. Bucknor was very inconsistent on the outside edge of the plate when the righthanded hitters were up. There weren't any egregious strike calls off the plate, but he was squeezing some of the rookie pitchers pretty bad over on that side.
17. Jorge Cantu has a heck of a bat. His swing is a touch violent, but a nice short stroke.
18. Sorry to bring everyone down, but Rod Black is just terrible. Terrible. I certainly don't mind the occasional screwup from a broadcaster - they're human, and if you make three or four mistakes in three hours I actually think you've done a good job (so long as you correct them). But I can't forgive the constant stream of errors that Black makes. He had the number of outs wrong more than once. He mangles names. He invents bizarre histories for players that bear no relationship to reality. At one point, he was describing Sparky's first-inning triple and said that he'd been "awarded third base". By who, the Baseball Gods?
19. That's not even docking him points for being a smarmy git who loves himself. Aaaaaaarrrrggggghhhhhh I hate Rod Black. I'm sorry. I'm sure he's a nice man, he does wonderful charity work, and I'm sure he's a better man than I am, all things considered. I've no doubt he's great doing figure skating or whatever, but he's in over his head in a baseball broadcast. Or anything that I'm actually watching. I promise that I won't mention him again except to praise him, until after the All-Star Break.
20. One word on Chacin's wraparound mirror shades - ROBO-FREAKIN'-TASTIC!
21. Wells did a great job of not breaking stride on his "triple". (Why not call a spade a spade, or in this case a single and a two-base error?) But looking at him run always gives me doom-laden thoughts of the not-too-distant future. He is a BIG man, Vernon; he's got the upper body of an NFL running back. That cannot be good for his speed as he ages. For now, though, he looks great - like a locomotive.
22. Miguel Batista got the job done again, but I have to say he inspires no confidence in me at all. Maybe that says more about me than about Batista, but it seems that he spots every hitter a 2-0 count!
23. More with Batista - what I don't understand, is why he doesn't (as a reliever) just throw the darn fastball. The Rays proved again tonight that they could NOT hit that fastball. Especially with a three-run lead, just throwing that great 94mph fastball with the good movement, should be enough all on its own.
24. Case in point - Batista starts Alex Gonzalez with a little lollipop curve, and it bounces three feet in front of the plate. Why!? He then throws four fastballs... called strike, called strike, foul, and finally a little dribbler to first. That fastball is a great, great pitch out of the pen.
25. That really was a nice catch by Vernon on Singleton's flyball. But it hammered home Robert Dudek's lesson on flyballs - if a ball is in the air long enough, it's going to be caught almost anywhere on the diamond. The hangtime on Singleton's ball had to be near five seconds, which was why Vernon could start back, reverse course, and still catch it in no-man's land.
26. In the ninth inning, they had a commercial for the Jimmy Fallon/Drew Barrymore "Fever Pitch". Now that is going to be one seriously crap moviegoing experience. At least it has nothing whatsoever to do with the book, which may be able to retain its dignity despite the association.
27. McDonald - off to a real good start. If I'm going to begrudge a guy's presence, I at least should have the decency to remark when he was a nice game, and McDonald had a terrific one.
28. The AP game notes had an interesting stat - the Devil Rays have never been 0-2 before, in the history of the franchise. I find that surprising.
29. Let's enjoy this start. This team has looked a class ahead of the Rays so far. Good news.