Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Tale of Black Beard and Other Pitching Stories


This post is probably going to be as off-beat as the characters I will be writing about. I had a friend ask me recently about San Francisco Giant's closer, Brian Wilson's beard, saying...is that beard real? I mentioned something about dye...or something to that effect. :-) That Mr. "Fear-the-Beard" Wilson is a strange character, there can be no doubt, especially given his interview with Jim Rome a few month's ago...as unusual an interview as you will ever see. Wilson's crossing his arms and pointing upward with his index finger following a save is also a unique sign (related to martial arts), and it basically means -- he will fight even with his back against the wall, and will live to fight another day. Think Karate Kid or some such. Nevertheless, I think that most closers are strange birds. Most of these guys just march to the beat of a different drummer...they are unafraid to stare stress and disaster in the face without blinking. No one can doubt Black Beard's effectiveness. He may be the greatest of his time, or at least for the 2010 playoffs, recording six saves and striking out sixteen in over eleven innings. He also just closed out the Rangers in the World Series last night...all in a days work for Wilson.

We baseball enthusiasts have known for a long time that good pitching beats good hitting. Well...we don't have to look any further than the just-concluded World Series to see the evidence of this. The Texas Rangers came into the World Series tearing the cover off the ball and had just trounced the mighty Yankees in the ALCS. In fact, most prognosticators were saying "Rangers in five or six games to win the World Series." So much for predictions. The four young home-grown starters for the Giants -- Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner -- simply were not going to be denied. All Lincecum did in the playoffs was beat Derek Lowe, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee (twice) on the way to proving that he is probably the most imposing pitcher of his time...not bad for a guy with a quirky, but powerful motion, and who probably weighs no more than 160 lbs. He maximizes his mental and physical abilities in a way that, perhaps, no other pitcher has ever done. Yet, young Mr. Cain didn't give up an earned run in any any of his starts in the post season, which is remarkable. And if this isn't enough, the 21 year-old Bumgarner was the youngest lefty to win a World Series game, pitching eight shutout innings of three hit ball in the pivotal game four of the Series. This is to say nothing of the good, clutch hitting the Giants had from (what a lot of people would say) are primarily a group of cast-offs. I don't know if this is a fair assessment -- probably not. Their hitters are all proven major league vets, with the exception of exciting rookie catcher, Buster Posey. But, with the pitching the Giants had, one could probably get Tom, Dick, Harry and six other folks and compete fairly well most days. :-) This segues into some praise for Giants manager Bruce Bochy, who is one of the "good guys" in baseball. He is a wily veteran who molded his group of 25 guys into a "team" that came together the last couple months of the season. And this is taking nothing away from Rangers manager, Ron Washington, and team president/minority owner, Nolan Ryan, who did a masterful job with their 25 men to get them to the big dance -- kudos to Ryan and Washington. So, even though I love the Rangers and applaud them for beating down the dreaded Yankees to get the the Series, I have to say "hats off" to the Giants and their young pitchers who carried the week, and who proved the adage once again...nothing can beat good pitching (unfortunately, in this case).

Finally, I guess it was somehow fitting that pitching carried the day in the Series, even though I didn't much like it. It was, after all, the year of the pitcher. There were (an unheard of) five no-hitters in 2010, and two of those were perfect games...by Roy Halladay (Phillies) and Dallas Braden (A's). The other three no-hotters were by Ubaldo Jiminez (Rockies), Edwin Jackson (Diamondbacks), and Matt Garza (Rays). It is interesting to note that Halladay also pitched a no-hitter in the playoffs this year against the Cincinnati Reds...only the second time such has happened in history (the other being Don Larsen's game 5 perfect game in the 1956 World Series). Speaking of Matt Garza's Rays, they have the ignominy of being no-hit twice in the past two years, which is pretty amazing in and of itself. It is hard to understand why all of this happened in 2010, except some say it has to do with hitters' confidence. Some say there is a correlation to MLB's crackdown of performance enhancing substances, which it could be. Or, it could just be because the pitching has just gotten that much better. Time will tell.


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