July 25, 2009
Nothing is more painful than the sight of competitive hitters like Jason Bay, J.D. Drew, Mike Lowell, and Jason Varitek lunging at low outside breaking balls and high inside fast balls and retreating to the bench with despair in their eyes. Desperation does not fit the Red Sox’ philosophy of patience at the plate and situational hitting. And it turns aggressive players into wall flowers waiting for the game to come to them.
It’s a long season, and these guys have reputations for coming back from slumps, but the American League pitchers have discovered a formula for getting them out. Pound the strike zone with breaking pitches and change-ups and finish them off with pitches out of the zone. The power trust keeps waiting for the fastballs that never come, until it’s too late. Then they’re tied up and look bad flailing at high ones.
I’ve noticed that the younger hitters– Youkilis, Pedroia and Ellsbury— are more likely go with the pitch and take what’s given them. They hit to all fields all the time, not just when they have the Green Monster to batter. These guys don’t strike out as much, because they’re not trying to yank everything. They hit grounders the other way and find the hole. And how did Ortiz break out of his slump? Hitting to left field and center and away from the shift. This is strategic hitting, not swinging with frustration and vengeance.
I don’t know these guys in the middle of the line-up personally, but I suspect that slumps make them think about the end of their careers, and in Bay’s case, about the end of his contract. There’s the fear of not catching up with the fastball, of diminishing eyesight, of hitting from behind in the count. It’s not a pretty sight, when you have to face mortality four times a game before millions of viewers and hometown fans.
How can anyone who has lived past forty fail to identify with this fear? I’m well beyond that frontier, so I can’t blame the veterans who are living it in public. But I wince to see the pain on the faces of hitters who are used to making the pitcher pay for the brushback and defying the shift by going the other way. I want to see their faces look like the grim determination of Pedroia or Youkilis, who look out at the mound with a challenge in their eyes. I’d like to see them wait on the breaking ball and take it the other way and to disdain the sneer of a high hard one. I’d like to see them give that knowing look back at the pitcher. Whatever you’ve got, meat, I’m ready for it.
I’m dreaming of that August, 1988 when the Sox ran the table and threw the American League back on their collective *****. They won 19 of 20 games. It was “Morgan Magic,” built from confidence in themselves and their teammates. I’d love to see the veterans, the guys who brought us so many clutch hits in the late season, make their run now. Experience still counts in this game, if you use it to your advantage.
Make your breaks. Go the other way. We love it when you make them pay.