I came home from work today to find a piece of paper wedged in my apartment door. This is not uncommon; I and the other residents in my building have had notices ranging from spraying for snakes (I live in Wisconsin, which so ... ?) to telling any and all possible offenders to stop putting nails behind the tires of a Camaro in the parking lot (yes, seriously).
But this time, I was the only one with the paper, so I unfolded it and read that my apartment is to be shown to a prospective lessee tomorrow (today? whatever) at 1430 and that it is to be presentable. So, being a kindhearted soul (hey, Madison landlords -- tweet me!) I embarked on a full-fledged cleaning escapade. Unfortunately, 'kindhearted soul' is second to 'degenerate slob' in my own personal self-description (uh, forget that sentence, Madison landlords), so this was to be a several-hour endeavor. I turned on the Braves game for some accompaniment, watched the Phillies jump out to a 6-0 lead, then turned it off.
Cut to an hour later. I check in on Twitter, and I see that ... uh, the Braves rallied? They scored on Halladay? BRIAN MCCANN HIT A GEEDEE GRAND SLAM?!?
Let's pause here to skip over the Chooch-related unpleasantries and the subsequent comeback from that particular deficit (because I didn't watch it) and ...
TIE GAME IN THE BOTTOM OF THE NINTH INNING?! AFTER DOC HALLADAY, WHO MAY OR MAY NOT EVEN BE A MORTAL HUMAN BEING, WAS STAKED TO A SIX-RUN LEAD?!
Well, yeah, I started to watch again. I do have some self-respect, after all. And then Michael Bourn popped out with the bases loaded, and I kind of tuned out again.
So this part here is what I was actually driving at when I started in 200 words ago, but I'm drunk and excited, which the latter is rarely resultant from April baseball, so here we are. Chipper Jones stepped in to bat with a runner on first against Brian Sanches, which is somehow not a misspelling.
Now, if I were a narrative-inclined baseball columnist, I might twist a yarn of the 20-year veteran stepping in against a guy who, in six seasons, has thrown as many innings as Justin Verlander might in one season. But I'm not, and I did (/do) not really know anything about Sanches, so I assumed that he was just your standard two-pitch reliever taking the mound in place of one Jonathan Papelbon, who's being paid a ... well, 'princely' sum kind of understates his contract, but you get the idea, to record outs at the end of baseball games.
The ... I guess you could call it 'sabermetrician' in me (though I wouldn't claim to put myself on that level) instinctively rages against that decision because it's objectively dumb, but the Braves fan in me was thrilled. Because Charlie Manuel is the kind of red-ass, old-school manager who subscribes to the theory of using your closer only in save situations, the Braves were going to get to face a guy who hadn't found any kind of Major League effectiveness until his age-30 season, and who is not Jonathan Papelbon's equal ont he mound.
Now, I don't mean to pat myself on the back when I say that the at-bat played out about as predictably as could happen in that situation. As someone who's spent some years pitching and who's spent more years watching Chipper hit and two-pitch relievers pitch, the progression of pitches was more or less by the book. 0-2, we see a bounced curveball. 1-2, another bounced curveball. Chipper doesn't swing, because he's Chipper. Sanches throws them because he's, well, Sanches. 2-2, Sanches comes high and tight because as any Braves fan can tell you, Chipper thrives on pitches middle-out. He doesn't get it high enough, and we get a foul ball.
I often find myself wondering what, exactly, separates great professional athletes from mediocre ones. Like, sure, sometimes the greats are more athletic than their lesser counterparts. But then, sometimes there are utter freaks of nature who wouldn't be out of place at the Olympics who just cannot hack it at anything approaching a professional level of sport. The skills are so granular, and so finely tuned, that it can be hard for fans to discern who's doing what well, and who needs improvement at what. They see the numbers on the scoreboard and know that they should cheer or boo accordingly, but in terms of what actually shows up in someone's performance ... well, it can leave a lot of fans in the dark.
The Chipper - Sanches at-bat was not such an occasion. Sanches had Chipper 2-2, had barely beaten Jones on a high fastball ... and then shook off his catcher and decided to go back to the heater.
Now, Sanches isn't some rookie. He's entitled to make that kind of decision! But you have got to pick your spots -- and 2-2 when you barely beat a future Hall of Famer ain't the kind of spot you pick to shake off your catcher. Sanches discarded the curve for a fastball ... and saw it get deposited 380 feet down the right field line, and 10 feet on the first base side of the foul pole.
At that point, as a pitcher, you have got to adjust. And Sanches did -- but he went for another curve out of the zone (if memory serves -- I'm doing this off the top of my head, so). Chipper Jones is not the type of hitter to bite on a 2-2 curve out of the zone, especially -- especially -- when you've already thrown him two of those. So Sanches put himself in an uncomfortable place (like the back of a Volkswagen), and when he needed to get out of it, he ...
... watched his catcher throw down three fingers, nodded, and came set.
Um ... okay. I stood up when I saw that, because I was aware of who was pitching: Brian Freaking Sanches, who had been added to the Major League roster literally the day before he was making this apperance. Brian Freaking Sanches, who, in his Major League career, has used his changeup exactly 2.3% of the time. Brian Freaking Sanches, who, to my mind, was about to make a huge mistake.
However long it took that ball to flirt with going outside, then decide to hang out over the plate, then fly 424 feet, later, my suspicions and the hopes of Braves fans everywhere had been realized. Braves 15, Phillies 13, F-11. Just the way we drew it up when we saw Halladay-Hanson listed as the starters.