On Sunday, against the Cubs, a natural phenomenon–arguably the natural phenomenon of the human experience–the sun, vexed Hunter Pence in the outfield at a pivotal moment when it veiled the flight of a Marlon Byrd out-turned-triple that would make all the difference.
Against the St. Louis Cardinals yesterday, it was another force of nature that jinxed Pence and several other members of the snake bit Houston Astros: Bono. Hunter Pence will not be using Beautiful Day for his walkup music anytime soon, after a U2 concert a week ago called for the Busch Stadium brass to uproot the grass, and lay down of the green stuff that had yet to settle in by the time the boys in brick commenced to catterwall across it on their way to a 10 to 5 loss to their NL Central opponents. Here’s a rundown of the turf-related incidents:
– Hunter Pence slipped while attempting to throw on the brakes to catch a line drive straight at him, leading to a Nick Punto triple.
– Michael Bourn skidded around in the outfield.
– Jose Altuve missed out on extra bases when he spun out rounding first.
– Jason Bourgeois booted a base hit when the ball took a slightly gamey bounce and passed by his outstretched glove.
“We really didn’t expect all the slipping,” Pence told the Chronicle. I don’t suppose we could say the same thing about the season. More from Zachary Levine on what the Astros had to say about the grass.
Incidentally, the Cardinals didn’t seem to have any problems on the slippery surface. I don’t recall a single instance in which they surfed it to trouble. Maybe they had some more time on it to get used to its feel. You’d think that if it were so terrible it wouldn’t matter how familiar a player was with it.
All the Cardinals did was win, even without one of my favorite players, Lance Berkman, who I can admit I was looking forward to seeing. There’s something so fresh and so clean about the Cardinals, their fresh whites and vibrant cardinal red, their classy stadium. Their cameras seem of a higher quality, even, with a crisp picture and brilliant sunlight. Maybe it’s the golden glow of competence that’s sparking my wistful perception of their home field. Maybe it was the promise of Lance, a rendezvouswhich, alas, must deferred.
J.A. Happ’s first inning hinted at a mild recovery from his general innefectiveness (is there a more kind word I could use in this situation than “ineffective”? I don’t think so). His fastball seemed to have a little more run on it, and he was working the edges of the strike zone. At one point in the first inning, Happ threw a change-up low and away that caused Bill Brown and Jim Deshaies to gasp audibly, suggesting that the duo didn’t consider the lefty capable of such a fine-looking professional baseball pitch.
The funny thing is, in later innings Happ didn’t seem to pitch worse than he did in the first. In fact, he seemed to continue pitching away from the middle of the zone, working low with his breaking pitch and showing some movement on his fastball. The Cardinals just hit the ball. Happ was doing what he was supposed to, it just wasn’t good enough. In the bottom of the 4th, punchless catcher Yadier Molina took one of the aforementioned well-located sliders over the left field wall to increase the St. Louis lead to three.
Happ was gone before the end of his half of the fifth.
Can it be said that we’ve seen all we need to from Happ? I think that, given enough starts even when he stinks, he’s got the location skills and the general pitcherliness to eke out a win here or there. But, barring some hidden injury, he’s just not a very deceptive pitcher. He lacks the unquantifiable deceipt or wrinkle or mojo to force big league hitters off balance. I don’t think that he’s a hopeless case. I think he could adjust. But in his current state, Astro oppoenents can feel pretty good about their odds when he takes the mound.
My wife asked me, around about the 7th inning, how someone can invest themselves in such a bad team. There have been many such conversations online lately, to wit the morose conclusion to this Crawfish Boxes post. “Hey!” I said to my wife a few minutes later, as Jose Altuve walked up to the plate. “He’s about five-foot-five,” I said. “Young guy, a real sparkplug.” My wife is the sort whose attitude about life in part derives from her relatively diminutive stature. “I like him!” she said as Altuve dug himself into the batter’s box. He promptly lined a double, extending his arms gracefully through his backswing and bursting out of the box into his kinetic stride. “I love him!” she yelled. Altuve smacked his hands together and proceeded to bounce around on second base.
Our record is 33-69. Who cares when Altuve’s at bat? My wife didn’t give a darn, and neither did I.
Rhythm and Blues
Chris Johnson hasn’t hit much lately. To my eye, he’s got no rhythm. A batting stance and the pre-pitch load-up is like the verse of a rock and roll song. It establishes the tempo, and creates the blend of tension and mirth that build perfectly to the chorus–the swing–such that every fiber of anticipation is unleashed in perfect harmony with what comes before and what comes after the swing.
Josh Hamilton, to use areally great hitter as an example, practically drops the bat head to the plate just before the pitch, in one of the more extreme displays of swing rhythm. He can get away with it, and he sets the tone for the swing by moving from the height of looseness to the pinnacle of tension.
Chris Johnson, on the other hand, stands stock still. He doesn’t move while the pitcher rocks and prepares to fire a pitch the only intention of which is to throw off the rhythm of the hitter before him. So basically Chris Johnson is doing the pitcher’s job for him, but erasing any rhythm from his pre-swing load-up all by himself. By the time the pitch gets there, Johnson had to start himself up and get a swing off at the last second like the baseball game had just startled him awake.
My prescription for the young hitter is three hours per day on the James Brown Pandora station.