I love pitching. Maybe it’s my inherent bias toward defense, maybe it’s my experience as a pitcher growing up, I’m not sure which provides more influence. What I do know is that I’m always drawn to pitchers and their control over the game. It is with that that I present my third and final moment of the 2008 season which is actually two moments.
Moment #1a: June 8th, Rich Harden faces the Angels
Rich Harden has always had unquestioned talent, but his lack of health have kept him from compiling the totals he’s capable of and gaining the appreciation that he would finally get in 2008. Nobody has been able to miss as many bats, as consistently, as Rich Harden does when he’s on and finally given a full season this year he generated a swing and a miss on 14.8% of his pitches, 1.2 points ahead of second place CC Sabathia and 2.7 points ahead of third place Tim Lincecum.
In this particular game, Macier Izturis stepped up to lead off. He takes a fastball on the lower outside black, fouls off a change just slightly higher and toward the center of the plate and then strikes out foul tipping a 96-mph fastball waist high and back on the outer black. Three pitches, three strikes, one strikeout.
Howie Kendrick is next. He bites on a slider below the knees for strike one. He hacks at and fouls an outside fastball off to fall behind 0-2. Harden then drops another filthy slider, this one at 87-mph, off the table and into the dirt which Kendrick fans at for strike three. Three more pitches, three more strikes, another strikeout.
You get where this is going now right? Garret Anderson is the third batter and stares at identical belt-high outer black fastballs for strikes one and two. Harden then goes back to the 0-2 money pitch and drops an 88-mph slider over the plate but below the knees for a swinging strike three. Nine pitches in total, nine strikes, three swinging, in total and three strikeouts.
Moment #1b: June 17th, Felix Hernandez faces the Marlins
The Mariners had fired GM Bill Bavasi the day before, they were 24-46 through their first 70 games. The season was over and there wasn’t much to play for or pay attention to anymore. Except for Felix. Owner of the best overall stuff in the league, Felix has struggled to harness it and use it to generate the results everyone know he’s capable of. But he shows flashes of brilliance.
In the top of the third, Felix retired Matt Treanor on a first pitch ground out and then faced Alfredo Amezaga. Fastball called strike one on the outer black, fastball cut on and missed for strike two and a slider taken on the inner half for strike three and there were two outs. Hanley Ramirez‘s turn lasted marginally better. A wild first pitch was followed by Hanley swinging and missing on a slider low and away, taking a 97-mph fastball on the outer edge and then striking out on a ridiculous slider in the dirt.
Impressive, but we’re not even close to done yet. To the top of the fourth and now it’s Jeremy Hermida‘s turn. He watched a pair of 89-mph change ups on the inner half for strikes and then failed miserably at making contact with an 85-mph curveball below the knees. Jorge Cantu, come on up and take a shot. Felix dials him up with straight cheese, 97, 97 and 96-mph fastballs all up in the zone. Cantu watched the first, missed the second and, according to MLB while I’m skeptical, managed to nick the third for a foul tip strike three.
Finally, Mike Jacobs come to bat. Felix drops a curveball in for strike one then gets Jacobs to chase a fastball well outside and finally puts the finishing touches on the five batter stretch with an 88-mph slider that catches the inside part of the plate for a called strike three. Five batters, 16 pitches, five strikeouts. One ball and one pitch, one, that a batter managed to make contact with.
There two stretches were the highest examples of pitching as an art. This was dominance in no other terms.
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