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Anatomy of an 11-pitch walk

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Ty France’s walk was the linchpin of the Mariners’ comeback win against the White Sox on Wednesday

Chicago White Sox v Seattle Mariners
there are no good action shots of walks okay
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

According to a recent Larry Stone article, before the trade that brought Ty France to Seattle, the Mariners had been hellbent on acquiring him for some time. On Wednesday he showed why, working an 11-pitch walk in the Mariners’ comeback sixth inning that would spur the team to victory.

To be fair, no man walks alone. France’s teammates deserve credit for drawing the team even in the sixth, starting with José Marmolejos drawing a walk against a tiring Dallas Keuchel followed by some heads-up baserunning on a Dylan Moore parachute shot. An infield hit from Tom Murphy (103 mph EV) loaded the bases for Taylor Trammell’s second MLB RBI hit off Chicago reliever Matt Foster, a 26-year-old reliever with 28.2 big-league innings to his name, all coming in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Another RBI single from J.P. Crawford and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Mitch Haniger drew the Mariners even, erasing a 4-1 deficit and resetting the table for Ty France with two outs with the go-ahead run at third.

Needing to put France away in order to move the game into the seventh with no further damage, Foster started out aggressive, with 95 at the top of the zone that France, off to an equally aggressive start, cut right through.

Smelling blood in the water, Foster was again aggressive in the zone on the second pitch of the at-bat, again with 95 but spotted right in the zone. Again France—who might have been looking for something off-speed and put a late swing on this ball—cut right through. 0-2.

0-2, any hitter will tell you, is not a comfortable place to be. Foster might have been on the ropes earlier, but so far in the at-bat had only had to show France two fastballs in order to earn two strikes. Usually, working 0-2, a pitcher might come with a different look to try to steal a strike, or throw something outside the zone and hope to induce a bad swing. But Foster had just given up back-to-back RBI singles to Trammell and Crawford on the changeup, and France so far hadn’t been able to catch up to his heater, so he elected to try it again, in almost the exact same spot as pitch #2. This time, though, France is able to get a piece and remain alive.

That’s dangerous territory to put a ball against a power hitter, and France is starting to catch up. Foster still is unwilling to go to his secondaries, but in the fourth pitch of the at-bat, tries to tempt France into swinging at a high fastball. It’s too high, sailing even above the catcher’s high target, and France resists. 1-2.

Enough of this living dangerously with the fastball, Foster decides. It’s time to break out the changeup. This is on its way to being strike three and then just as it approaches the plate, takes a right turn towards France’s belt buckle. Ball two.

Curse words.

Having missed with the changeup, Foster returns to the comfort zone of his heater, putting a little extra oomph on it this time at 96. It’s good velocity and excellent location, spotted up and outside in the zone. France makes contact with it anyway, spoiling the pitch.

CURSE WORDS.

Back to the changeup for pitch seven. A changeup is a good putaway pitch, except when it’s not. France almost looked like he was sitting changeup, reaching across the zone to foul this away, much to Foster’s dismay.

We’re only on pitch eight of what will be eleven and the Mariners broadcast booth is heaping praise on France for grinding out this at-bat. You might think that would prompt the ever-spiteful baseball gods to freeze France on something in the middle of the plate, or cause a soft tapper back to the pitcher, but no, because when the baseball gods were handing out contact skills, Ty France stood in line twice.

That’s a good borderline pitch in a two-strike count, close enough to tempt the hitter on the high fastball, located closer to the top of the zone but a little further away than the fourth pitch of the at-bat. France fouls that one away, too.

Pitch nine. Foster returns to the changeup, which looks good for a hot second, and France, who is geared for the changeup, is momentarily tempted—

—but then the bottom falls out before it gets to the plate and France wisely holds off. Full count.

“Come on man, be cool. Just strike out already.”

“I choose violence.”

Pitch ten: another heater, another good location, another pitch spoiled by France.

At this point, France checks in with the home plate ump on the count. You can see him mouth “3-2? Okay.” He’s been up there so long he’s forgotten what the dadgummed count is. Civilizations have risen and fallen in the time Ty France has been standing at the plate. Glaciers have melted, re-formed, and melted again. George R.R. Martin finished the last Game of Thrones book and has completed a young adult sequel series.

It’s been so much buildup that pitch 11, when it comes, is anti-climactic. Maybe Foster was fatigued. Maybe he was just tired of looking at Ty France. Either way, this fastball wasn’t close, after an at-bat full of close pitches.

Credit to Matt Foster here, who made some really good pitches in this at-bat, even while fighting his changeup command some. I kept freeze-framing hoping to get a good reaction shot of the frustration he must feel, but Foster remained utterly sanguine in his mound demeanor, seemingly unflappable. That’s a quality that will serve him well as a reliever. It’s not his fault he ran into the Immovable Plate Discipline Object known as Ty France.

Obviously, Kyle Seager delivers the big hit after this at-bat, snagging one of those high fastballs and depositing it into the left-field corner, because sometimes when it’s not your day, it’s really not your day. But without France extending this inning, getting Seager (and José Marmolejos, who would hit an RBI single right after) lots of extra looks at Foster and running up the young reliever’s pitch count, the Mariners don’t find themselves in the catbird seat they enjoy at the end of this inning. There are a lot of things that are borderline unwatchable about these 2021 Mariners at the plate; thankfully, Ty France’s plate appearances—not always exciting, but thrillingly competent—aren’t one of them.