But first, I decided to do a bit of a “bloggy” post today, talking about my thoughts about ten years as a serious baseball fan and how my true love of the game comes from the art of pitching.
The year was 1998. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were slamming home runs everywhere. It seemed like a lot of guys were slamming home runs. After baseball had suffered through the strike shortened 1994 season, no World Series, and a delayed 1995 season, the sport needed a shot in the arm. As it turned out, the two biggest sluggers may have taken some shots, and probably not in the arm.
But, the reason I became interested in baseball is not the home run race. Actually, I was only casually interested in basketball back then. Baseball didn’t really appeal to me much. What caught my attention was a new pitcher on the hometown Red Sox who was making headlines. I didn’t really know much at all about baseball at the time. But, what I did know that what this young ace pitcher named Pedro Martinez was doing was special.
I watched a few games in 1998. Of course, the Red Sox were competitive that season and fan favorite Mo Vaughn was still in his prime. Nomar Garciaparra was in his second full season and easily one of the best hitters in the game. The Sox wouldn’t get very far in the playoffs, but the way that Pedro was able to just baffle batters intrigued me. They were a pretty fun team to watch, too.
But, I didn’t really start watching baseball seriously until after the 1999 All-Star Game. You know, the one where Pedro struck out Barry Larkin, Larry Walker, and Sammy Sosa in the first inning, and both Mark McGwire and Jeff Bagwell. Matt Williams would only be on base thanks to an error and be caught stealing on a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play.
After those two innings of that All-Star Game, I was hooked. I loved how this relatively small guy could not only blow fastballs by these mighty hitters, but fool them with offspeed pitches looking stupid, too. For me, pitching was the more fascinating part of the game, and to this day, I prefer pitcher’s duels. “Good pitching” beats “good hitting” they say, and it’s true.
For many baseball fans, it seems like home runs have become the most important thing for a player to do. For me, watching all these big, bulky guys hack away just to hit the ball over the fence seemed silly to me. Sure, you had guys like Mo Vaughn that were just built like that. But I preferred to watch the more athletic and dynamic players like Garciaparra, O’Leary (people forget how good Troy was!), and John Valentin. I know most fans loved McGwire, Sosa, and the other big sluggers. But I preferred to just watch Pedro make batters look silly.
In an era in 2019 where the ball is jumping off the bat more quickly than ever, quality pitching is becoming harder to find. Just look at the 2019 Red Sox. They can hit and light up the scoreboard without any trouble most nights. But, the trouble is, so can the opposing teams. The Red Sox’s best pitcher is Chris Sale, who when he’s right, is probably as good as Pedro was. But Sale isn’t right, right now, and the only other truly good performing pitcher on the current team is Eduardo Rodriguez. I don’t really love slugfests, even though it’s fun to be on the winning side of one. I miss the days of consistent pitching keeping the team in the game so the offense could do their job.
Of course, many times when Pedro took the mound, the Red Sox offense would suddenly go silent. But, that’s because Pedro was just so good that the opposing pitcher would do his best to try and match him. That’s what Pedro’s competitiveness did to a game - it made everyone else just try to be a little bit better. Most of the time, the other team failed. That struggle to score runs always appealed to me more so than how many home runs were hit.
Not to say I don’t love home runs, of course. But, I’d love to see a little balance come back to the game. Fortunately, the game is actually blessed with quite a few very good pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, and Zack Greinke are likely all headed for the Hall of Fame. Stephen Strasburg has really turned a corner and become the pitcher everyone thought he would be. Chris Sale is one of the best when he’s healthy. Heck, Patrick Corbin has suddenly turned into an incredible pitcher for the Nationals, too. And, of course, who can forget Gerrit Cole becoming dominant for the Houston Astros?
The best pitching teams right now are the Houston Astros (Verlander/Cole/Greinke) and the Nationals (Scherzer/Strasburg/Corbin). To me, the perfect World Series would be these two teams pitted against one another. Of course, the Dodgers, with their own Hall of Fame bound ace, young hurler Walker Buehler, and a solid staff of effective young and old hurlers have a good chance to the the last ones standing. I always side with pitching, but it’s hard to ignore what the Yankees, Dodgers, and Twins are doing this year bludgeoning everyone to death.
In my ten years as a baseball fan, I’ve been delving into the stats and trying to better understand the game I’ve come to love so dearly. Right now, I feel like the game needs a young phenom pitcher - or several - to absolutely dominate. I think there are a few candidates in the game right now. I don’t know who it will be that rises above the others, but as with everything in sports, offense and defense have a way of eventually overtaking the other.
I will say, though, that today’s biggest stars are definitely on the offensive side of the ball. Honestly, I’m OK with that. But for me, I’ll always be a sucker for a pitcher’s duel. I’m hoping we see a few of those in the upcoming MLB playoffs. For me, an Astros and Nationals world series with the Nats finally coming out on top (and giving that Expos fan base a sigh of relief) would be the best thing that could happen to baseball right now.
Of course, it will probably be Yankees and Dodgers, and what is more classic than that?
Who do you think will win the World Series this year? Do you think baseball is in a good place right now, or is offense just too nuts right now?