Much of the focus on last night’s game has centered around the obstruction call that gave the Cardinals a walk-off win. The poor defensive play that allowed the scenario to unfold played a major role, and it has also drawn a lot of attention. Ditto questionable decisions by both managers.
Almost completely overlooked are a defensive play and expertly-choreographed pitch sequences in potentially game-changing innings.
In the sixth inning, St. Louis third baseman David Freese snared a Dustin Pedroia line drive targeted for the left field corner. Instead of runners on second and third with none out, the Red Sox had a runner on first with one out. It proved especially meaningful when David Ortiz and Daniel Nava followed with singles. Boston settled for one run.
Advance scouting deserves some of the credit, as does Freese. The pitch was a changeup, and Freese was hugging the line.
Second baseman Matt Carpenter, who earlier robbed Daniel Nava with a diving stop up the middle, understands the nuances of defensive positioning.
“You read swings, know how a pitcher is locating, and anticipate where a hitter is going to go with it,” said Carpenter. “That’s what we try to do,. We have coaches who figure out our positioning — where we’re going to play guys — and we make adjustments on the fly from there.”
In the fourth inning, Joe Kelly quelled a rally by striking out Nava with two on and two out. He did so on a 3-2 changeup, and the sequence that culminated in the K was a thing of a beauty.
The seven pitches Nava saw were a mix of fastballs, curveballs and sliders, at a variety of speeds. In order, the radar readings were 94, 80, 86, 79, 95, 80, 88.
In the fifth inning, Boston had runners on the corners with none out. Kelly’s pitch-mix to Stephen Drew was every bit as good. Sequentially, the velocities were an off-speed-heavy 96, 87, 80, 79, 87, 87. The result was another timely strikeout that set Kelly up for a potential inning-ending double play. He almost got it. Going hard against pinch-hitter Mike Carp, he induced a force out with a 94, 94, 86, 96, 95 sequence. Jacoby Ellsbury then fanned on a run of 95, 95, 87, 81, 81, 86, 96. Boston settled for a lone tally.
Kelly executed the pitches, but Yadier Molina shares credit for his expert pitch-calling. Molina is a master, which is why Cardinals’ pitchers rarely shake him off.
“I only remember shaking off Yadier three times this year,” said right-hander Shelby Miller. “There was one time I shook away from a curveball and threw a fastball, and actually ended up striking the guy out. It was a good thing he didn’t hit it. It’s almost an unwritten rule you can’t shake Yadier. Once you do it, you almost feel bad. As a young guy, I try not to shake him. I don‘t think the veteran guys do either.”
Fellow rookie Michael Wacha said he didn’t shake Molina once all season.
“I feel like he will know more about what would be an effective pitch against a certain batter than I would,” explained Wacha. “I’m basically out there thinking ‘hey, you know what, this guy is probably right so I’m going to stick with that.’“
“Yadi knows the hitters better than any of us, so I’m basically going with what he wants,” added reliever Seth Maness. “I think I shook him off once this year. He wanted a fastball away and I wanted it in. Did I think twice about shaking him off? Yeah, it crossed my mind a little bit. But he doesn’t mind. He has confidence in us. If we believe we need to shake him off, he’s good with it.”
According to Molina, it’s all about communication.
“I’m used to each guy and how he’s different,” said Molina. “I know what he likes to do. You have to keep that in mind every time you put a new guy on the mound. It’s not about shaking off, it’s about communication. We have the meeting before the game, and we talk, It’s OK if they shake, because it’s about communication.”
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