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Some Quick Thoughts On Day 2 Of The Playoffs

Not so Minnesota-nice anymore, are you
Not so Minnesota-nice anymore, are you

I'm back for another round of this, and I'm feeling less worn out than I did yesterday. Maybe that's because I didn't get completely drained by a no-hitter crammed in the middle of two other dramatic, mega-important baseball games. Or maybe it's because this time around the Yankees were an appetizer, rather than the disappointing, chewy main course. Tim Lincecum kind of served as an upper there at the end. The man is his own drug.

  • So here's what Game Score is. Game Score is a simple metric created by Bill James to assign a numerical grade to any start, where the higher the number, the better the performance. It's supposed to be reflective of quality. It isn't perfect - they never are - but it's simple and convenient and not completely ridiculous, and it's with that in mind that I present the following three game scores:

    98: Roger Clemens, 10/14/2000
    96: Tim Lincecum, 10/7/2010
    94: Roy Halladay, 10/6/2010

    Clemens' game - against the Mariners! - has the highest game score in the history of playoff baseball. Halladay nearly matched him two days ago, and Lincecum nearly matched him today. There are two reasons this is interesting:

    (1) Lincecum beat a guy who threw a no-hitter
    (2) These two games happened in the first two days of the playoffs

    The reason Lincecum beat Halladay is that game score takes strikeouts into account, and Lincecum whiffed 14. You can agree or disagree that that's the right thing to do, but that's the explanation. More significant, however, is #2. How lucky are we? How lucky are we that we got to see Halladay and Lincecum do what they did this early in the postseason? How lucky are we that we got to see Cliff Lee do what he did, too? Not that anyone's going to be talking about that anymore. But, Jesus Christ, these are playoff lineups, and we've seen three absolutely breathtaking pitching performances in the span of like 36 hours. I don't know that 2010 is the Year of the Pitcher, but this is presently the week of them.

  • You could write a book about this. I'm going to write a bullet point, and I haven't even thought it completely through. But what I think we just saw from Halladay and Lincecum is the difference between being hard to hit and being unhittable.

    And the weird thing is that I'm going to slap the 'unhittable' label on the guy who gave up a hit. Hear me out. Halladay worked his complete game no-hitter, striking out eight in the process but more importantly keeping the Reds from even coming close to getting a knock. The nearest they came was a drive off the bat of starter Travis Wood. Nobody squared Halladay up. They swung through a lot of pitches, sure, but they also hit a lot, and hit them poorly. Roy Halladay was hard to hit.

    Tim Lincecum, meanwhile, struck me as unhittable, and here's my evidence: of the 55 swings that Braves hitters took against Lincecum tonight, 31 of them missed. 31. 31 swinging strikes and foul tips (which are basically swinging strikes). I don't know of any single-game swinging strike leaderboard, but I swear to you I've never seen a total as high as Lincecum's was tonight. Atlanta's contact rate was 44%. They had about as much success even making contact with a pitched baseball as Matt Hasselbeck has completing downfield passes.

    Against Roy Halladay, it was hard for the Reds to pick up a hit. Against Tim Lincecum, it was hard for the Braves to bat the ball somewhere in the first place. Those are two different paths to what wound up being very similar results.

    I don't think one is better than the other. Both were absolute treats to watch, and I'm thankful that my job required me to watch them, since ordinarily I tune out the playoffs until they get closer to the Series. I'm an impartial observer of this postseason, but I was not an impartial observer of Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum. They absolutely pulled me in and had my support, and what they were able to do is spectacular.

    What a time for Lincecum to come up with the best start of his life.

  • Halladay and Lincecum each have an argument for having thrown the best start in playoff history. Halladay and Lincecum were each making their playoff debuts.

  • Watching the Yankees hit against Carl Pavano was like watching two different games. Early on, the Yankees were content to wait him out, which is a mistake when you have a guy who peppers the strike zone like Pavano does so consistently. Then they flipped a switch, and both their approach and their results changed in an instant. From the start of the fourth until he got yanked in the seventh, Pavano threw 34 strikes, and the Yankees swung at 29 of them, a marked departure from their 14/26 through the first three innings.

    The Yankees stopped letting Pavano come to them, and they started going after Pavano. They hit the ball hard, they scored four runs, and they nearly scored more. The Yankees are normally a patient lineup, and they tried to be patient again today, but it was when they switched things up to meet their opponent that they flourished. I wasn't happy to see it, but it was interesting to watch a team adjust on the fly.

  • Some time tomorrow, or over the weekend, sit down and think about Mariano Rivera. People like to talk about how good bullpens shorten games, but when Brian Wilson or Heath Bell come in for a save, their opponents still feel like they have a chance. Against Rivera, nobody feels like he has a chance. Rivera allowed 39 hits this year. Three home runs. I can't help but assume that all of them were lucky. There has never been a player in any sport who has ever felt as automatic as Rivera does now, and as Rivera has for well over a decade. Michael Jordan came close, but Michael Jordan missed shots. Rivera doesn't miss shots. Rivera is simply the first component of a Rube Goldberg device that takes five minutes to run and ends with a zero on the scoreboard.

    I know that Rivera's blown saves before. I know that he famously blew Game 7 of the 2001 World Series. Baseball has never seen an unlikelier miracle. Tony Womack? There were other forces at play that evening.

  • Umpire controversy!

    (1) In the Rays/Rangers game, Michael Young appeared to go all the way around on a two-strike pitch, but the first base umpire said he checked his swing, and on the next pitch he hit a backbreaking three-run dinger

    (2) In the Twins/Yankees game, Lance Berkman appeared to strike out on an inside fastball, but the home plate umpire called it a ball, and on the next pitch Berkman hit the go-ahead double

    (3) In the Giants/Braves game, Buster Posey appeared to be tagged out on a stolen base attempt, but the second base umpire called him safe, and shortly thereafter he scored on a Cody Ross single for the only run of the game

    There were two important missed calls yesterday. There were at least two more today, and arguably a third, depending on what you think of that pitch to Berkman. There isn't even anything new to say anymore. Everybody just has to recycle the same old articles and the same old arguments. "Replay will prevent these mistakes from happening!" "Replay will slow the game down." "Replay will make the game more accurate!"

    I'm sick of it, I'm sick of it mattering so damn much, and I think this has become a one-sided battle of attrition. The commissioner's office is going to wear us down with its inactivity until we all grow so tired of pleading for replay that we either accept things as they are or throw up our hands and go watch lacrosse.

  • The refereeing is no better in lacrosse.

  • Incidentally, the people I feel worst for are the umpires. Players can take it. Fans can take it. Players and fans have support systems. Umpires get it from everybody, and sometimes there's not even anything they can do. Sometimes plays are just too difficult for the human eye to figure out. Yet nobody gives them a break. Nobody gives a shit about their perspective. A lot of umpires are dicks, and worthy of our contempt, but a lot of them are not, and when one of the good ones gets a big call wrong, that sucks. That sucks for the players, and that sucks for the fans, but more than anyone else, that sucks a lot for the umpire. An umpire's job is thankless at the best of times. At worst, he's completely alone, hated by all who surround him. If I were an umpire I'd probably make a lot of sarcastic wanking motions.

  • Good news, Minnesota! Now that you're down 2-0 in your series, you get to go to New York and hand the ball to a guy who never strikes anyone out! If he somehow manages to come away with a win, then you get to hand the ball to a guy who somehow strikes even less hitters out! Thank God that ballpark is so spacious and forgiving. 

  • Phillies/Giants will be the best series of the month, and the year.

  • Joe Maddon's reputation is almost completely dependent on how good his team looks. He's either a puzzling overthinker, or he's a genius. Conclusion: stop trying to understand managers and start trying to understand something you actually have some hope of figuring out, like how come some bananas go from green to yellow to brown while others skip the middleman? I don't know when I should eat you, mysterious banana :(