The most amazing thing that happened in the first game of the World Series happened when the game was already well in hand for the Red Sox. The first inning was nearly turned upside-down by an embarrassing initial call, and Pete Kozma performed worse in the field than at the plate, and Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina allowed the easiest of pops to drop between them. It was, without question, a weird game, and the Cardinals never got themselves righted, but if you’re in search of the amazing, you look to the bottom of the seventh. When David Ortiz came to the plate, Boston’s chances of winning were just under 99%. When David Ortiz took his curtain call, Boston’s chances of winning were just under 100%. What Ortiz did hardly mattered, in the grand scheme of things, or even in the lesser scheme of things. A not-close game became a less-close game. But what Ortiz did hadn’t been done.
I was looking forward to watching Kevin Siegrist face David Ortiz, as much as you can look forward to any individual matchup late in a five-run game. Ortiz, obviously, has his own presence, which goes beyond the statistics, but Siegrist has been good and lately he’s been throwing harder. In September and October he’s been pushing his fastball to 98 and 99, and between him and Ortiz, I was interested to see who would have the advantage. It could at least mean something for the rest of the series. The at-bat was over in one pitch. Siegrist did throw his fastball.
Here are the obligatory images of what actually happened:
Pausing right before contact:
The camera’s watching at an angle, because FOX is just the worst, but that image gives you a good sense. Siegrist threw a fastball at the belt, and it was over the middle of the plate. Belt-high, middle? Makes sense that pitch would get crushed. Here’s David Ortiz afterward:
Ortiz was asked what he knew about Kevin Siegrist before Wednesday night.
“I knew he got a good fastball,” Ortiz said. “A guy with that kind of fastball you’re not going to go looking for a changeup or a slider. You gotta look fastball. And I can still hit fastballs.”
Siegrist does have a good fastball he throws a lot. Between that knowledge and the location of the actual pitch, it might not seem like there’s anything newsworthy here. Pitcher throws centered fastball hitter sees coming, hitter goes yard. But, Siegrist throws a lot of his fastballs to lefties over the plate. And he throws a lot of fastballs to lefties, period, such that in that sense he’s fairly predictable. Hadn’t mattered. Never mattered until Wednesday. There’s nothing real tricky about Kevin Siegrist, but despite that, lefties before Ortiz hardly stood a chance.
This was the first homer by a lefty off Siegrist all season. That includes both the majors and the minors, and this season is extra relevant because this was Siegrist’s first season in dedicated relief. He seems to have taken rather well to the role. But we can go beyond that. In the minors this year, lefties against Siegrist posted a .291 OPS, with 19 strikeouts in 32 plate appearances. During the regular season, they had a .388 OPS. Norichika Aoki did get to Siegrist for a triple, but it was a hard groundball triple up the middle that somehow managed to elude the center fielder. Facing lefties, Siegrist has been aces. And we can dig deeper still.
Since joining the Cardinals, Siegrist has allowed 45 balls in play to lefties. Of those, 28 have been grounders, or 62%. That’s a dominant figure on its own. Of the remaining air balls, only three were pulled. Granted, fly ball rates are generally much higher to the opposite field, but pulled air balls represent the real danger. Ortiz, on Wednesday, pulled a homer to right-center. Below, the two previous pulled air balls by lefties against Siegrist in 2013. You’ll note that they were hardly threatening.
Anthony Rizzo, pulling a single:
David DeJesus, pulling a lazy fly down the line:
And that’s it. Before Wednesday, lefties had pulled two balls in the air against Siegrist. One was a run-of-the-mill liner single, and the other was a harmless fly near foul territory, shy of the scary part of the track. In short, Siegrist hadn’t allowed a threatening pulled ball in the air. He hadn’t really allowed any threatening balls in the air to lefties. Nothing really came close to reaching the track on the fly. There were just a few sinking liners, most of them slapped to left. Before Ortiz, Siegrist hadn’t come close to allowing a homer to a lefty, and now he knows what that feels like. I mean, he already knew how it felt to allow a homer to a lefty, but he didn’t know how it would feel as a full-time, high-intensity reliever. Hypothesis: it feels bad. But I don’t want to ask him to make sure.
One of the probable key matchups in this series going in was Kevin Siegrist against David Ortiz. The two faced off in Game 1, and not only did Ortiz get the better of it — on the first pitch, he did something to Siegrist no one else had come close to doing. The way Ortiz tells it, it might’ve been almost too easy, but we know that can’t be true, based on Siegrist’s track record. Ortiz did something incredible. That’s meaningful, just on its own. And it’s also meaningful when projecting out the rest of the series. How will Siegrist pitch to Ortiz the next time, if there is a next time? Will he stick with his bread-and-butter? Will he start Ortiz off with a curve? Will Ortiz expect him to start with a curve, and therefore be prepared for that? How is Siegrist going to respond to a new experience? How is Ortiz going to respond to his expectation of Siegrist’s response?
I was looking forward to the first showdown. I might now be looking even more forward to the second. You knew that David Ortiz did something good. You might not have fully appreciated how unusual that was, though, and because of that a largely meaningless home run could help shape the games yet to come.
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