Friday, July 24, 2009

Mrs. Linklater's Only Baseball Column of The Summer [Thank Goodness]

Because this is a Cubs versus White Sox town, some radio jock posed an inflammatory question while I was driving home the other day. Something to raise the ratings, shake the rafters, and generally irritate me.

Was Kerry Wood's twenty strike out game, a decade ago, during his phenomenal rookie season with the Cubs, a more impressive achievement than White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle's perfect game last week?

I didn't wait to hear, because I already know the opinions would follow northside and southside allegiances. By the way, even though I am first a White Sox fan, I go with Kerry Wood's strikeouts. Because his accomplishment was something he did by himself. Even more amazing, to me at least, he was working with a young catcher who had never caught him before -- Sandy Martinez. And if a lazy infielder had made a little more effort, he could have had a no hitter instead of a one-hitter.

Besides that's not the question that's been rattling around in my head looking for an answer.

My conundrum is whether lefty Mark Buehrle's perfect game is as impressive as lefty Dewayne Wise's unbelievable catch to preserve it. And, percentage-wise, are there more great lefthanded players or righthanded players -- not only in baseball, but any sport?

I've actually spent quality time [which could have been spent picking lint out of my navel] contemplating the pros and cons of both questions. Did I mention I'm lefthanded?

At first, Buehrle's perfection would seem to be the more difficult accomplishment, what with having to make it through nine flawless innings. Not only without a hit, but no walks, no errors, no nothing.

Which may make you wonder why I'm going with Dewayne Wise's catch.

That's because I was a pitcher back in the day [no, not Susan B. Anthony's day]. And while my X chromosomes relegated me to softball, I know that it's not hard to pitch well when everything you're throwing in warm ups is working right. [Assuming your teammates don't gum things up].

On a good day, when you know your control is really cooking, you can make a batter fly out, ground out, and strike out almost at will. I actually have more respect for pitchers who can win despite having an off game, when only one or two pitches are really working for them. Knowing you're going to get hit, but figuring out a way to make those hits go where you want, is a way underrated talent.

Mark Buehrle was in a zone. The fact that he set a major league record by pitching no-hit ball for another five plus innings in his next game is a testament to that. I bet the reason he finally got hit was that he lost focus. Or, more accurately, he needed to start focusing. Eventually your mind has to kick into gear. When you're in the zone you don't have to think -- only act, or react. So when you begin to slip out of that magic place, and you will, the synapses have to re-engage. You have to realize it's time to start pitching and not just throwing. Thank you Mrs. Linklater. Why aren't you aren't baking cookies or something?

Anyway, this was supposed to be about Dewayne Wise's spectacular catch. And that lefthanded thing. I've watched the catch again and again on ESPN, on the local news, on the national news, on the internet, wherever I can.

We've all been told that there have been only 18 perfect games in the MLB history. We're also told that there is always a remarkable defensive play to define every great pitching performance. I venture to say that Dewayne Wise's catch was as big, if not bigger, than the game itself. And I bet no other defensive play in those other perfect games comes close.

The first thing I noticed after the ball was hit was how effortlessly and quickly he took off after the ball. Watching the video, Wise looks like he sprinted close to fifty yards in about five seconds.

But unlike a sprinter who only has to get to the tape, an outfielder has to multitask. First he has to be a rocket scientist, estimating the speed and trajectory, angle and distance of a tiny orb that is about to drop out of the sky.

Second, he has to do all this while running at full speed toward an immovable object.

Third, to keep from crashing into the wall, he has to take his eye off the ball, which continues rocketing downward.

At this point he has a nano second to time his climb, determine how high he has to leap, and judge exactly where to put his glove for the one chance he has to make an impossible catch. Then he also has to be ready to catch it a second time with his bare hand before losing his balance and rolling on the ground.

Wise had spent most of the game trying to stay warmed up and ready to go. In fact, he didn't even know Buehrle had a no hitter working until the sixth inning. In the postgame interviews he mentioned how big plays seem to find a player that has just been inserted into a game. I've also heard announcers point out the number of times it seems a lead off batter has just been on the field involved in a major defensive play.

In the end I will always think Dewayne Wise's catch was better than Buehrle's perfect game. Especially since by itself, even without its impact on the game, the catch stands on its own.

As for lefties being better in sports. Lefties comprise 10 percent of the population. According to the internet, which is never wrong, lefty pitchers made up 27% of MLB in 2008. I didn't track the batters or the fielders. This entry is getting long enough.

Among the top tennis players in the world, there will always be a lefty -- from Rod Laver to Jimmy Connors to John McEnroe to Martina Navratilova, to Rafa Nadal. And those are just the ones I can remember. Not so much in golf -- probably because nobody has to hit a ball served up by a lefty. A golfer's main opponent is usually the course.

I say usually, because in every competitive endeavor, right handed or lefthanded, in the zone or out, you also have to contend with the voices inside your head.

Time to bake something.

1 comment:

Remo said...

The Cubs still play baseball?