OLD FASHIONED BASEBALL IN A NEW FANGLED WORLD
The first game at Yankee Stadium yesterday afternoon was in the seventh inning before I realized what I was watching. I was watching an old fashioned no hitter.
Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka had actually given up two hits on the way to offering more evidence that the Yankees faith in their $175 million off season investment was justified. Tanaka went eight inninings, allowing just the two hits, both infield singles, while striking out ten. There was a time when he would have been working on a no hitter.
It’s impossible to tell how things will work out. You can’t predict what one hit or one error or one blown umpiring call will lead to until the inning and the game have played out, but the fact that Tanaka wasn’t flirting with immortality when he worked the eighth inning also pointed to how much the game has changed in the last half decade.
One of the reasons games have become so tediously long, to the point one front office moron actually suggested shortening them to seven innings, is that managers have begun to overmanage to unmanageable proportions. The Chicago White Sox, for instance, ran out of pitchers last night and left it to an infielder to take the loss on the mound. Part of that overmanaging is evident in the over use of the shift, positioning three infielders on one side of second base to deal with a hitter’s penchant for hitting to that side and swinging the fourth infielder closer to the other side of second. As most baseball analysts now observe, the best way to send the shift the way of the “prevent defense” in the NFL, is to lay down a bunt toward the shorthanded side of the infield. So it was that one of the infield hits against Tanaka came to be. Of course, on the other side of the coin, it may also work out that the shift accounts for an out that may otherwise have been a base hit.
The other hit was actually ruled an out on the field on a great play by Tanaka on a bunt by Junior Lake. It was a bang bang play that, when viewed by the naked eye looked very much like the umpire got it right. In the past the call would have stood, but the Cubs challenged the call and replays showed the runner to be safe by less than the bat of an eyelash. Good for the replay system, the intent is to get the call right, and the replay got it right, which leads to an interesting question. How many no hitters in the past, when we relied solely on the judgement of the umpire, would have been lost to the replay? I hesitate the ask the question for fear someone might take up the task of using today’s technology to review close plays that kept past no hitters alive and start monkeying with the record books. It wouldn’t be the first time baseball has altered the rules regarding no hitters.
Again, no effort should ever be made to predict what’s going to happen on the next pitch or next play or to suggest that the last play would lead to a different result on the next one, but it’s also interesting to note that Tanaka was very economical in his day’s work and had thrown fewer than a hundred and ten pitches through eight innings, making it likely that had he not given up either of those hits, even in today’s world of pitch counts, he would have been left to work the ninth and go for the milestone. All of this is why I say I suddenly realized I was watching an old fashioned no hitter.
A few of those old fashioned no hitters probably wouldn’t have happened in today’s baseball environment. This was one that didn’t.
With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.