MLB.com did a nice job, putting together a montage of Kris Medlen’s 13 strike-outs vs. the Naitonals on Friday, September 14th.
As I watched the clip, I found myself rewinding the called 3rd strikes on change-ups. I realized that in over 40 years of watching baseball, that has to be my favorite play – the called 3rd strike on a change-up. Think about it. A major league batter has two strikes against him, and he’s looking for the heat, or maybe the cutter. And in floats the pitch, about 20 mph slower than expected. The batter’s timing is totally disrupted and he is frozen. He watches the most hittable pitch of the night glide across the plate, and hears the ball plop into the mitt. Put your head down. Don’t look up. Trot back to the dug-out, and put away your own bat and helmet. Sit at the end of the bench, and pray that you don’t make an error in the field. Question your decision to skip college.
This is baseball Shakespeare. And it is my favorite "play" in baseball.
This realization has prompted me to think about my favorite baseball plays. When I’m watching a baseball game – live or on TV – what parts of the game do I really enjoy?
I ask Talking Chop readers to submit their favorites. And if you’re so inclined, name the Braves player that provides the best performance. I only ask that you make your selection a regular part of the game – not a once-in-a-lifetime, or even once-a-season experience.
I’ve had time to think about it, so here are my Top 5.
1) Called 3rd strike on a change-up. My description is above. I’ll add the exclamation point of the catcher standing up quickly and firing a fastball to 3rd base – around the horn. That’s the very same fastball the hitter expected to see coming from the mound. Bonus points if you see the catcher’s lips move. I’d give a day’s pay to know what Big Mac is saying then.
Brave: lately, Kris Medlen
2) The throw from right field to attempt an out at the plate. This is the perfect baseball geometry. A 90-degree right angle – the runner at one side, and the right fielder on the other. Foot speed against arm strength and accuracy. The catcher stands at the vertex, waiting for the throw, hearing thundering steps. The plate must be protected. The runner must be tagged.
Braves: Jeff Francouer connecting with Brian McCann.
3) Stealing 2nd base – the throw-down. Is there any other game where you can actually steal position? I can’t think of one. The catcher, wearing heavy equipment and just having received a 90 mph projectile must quickly stand-up, remove the ball from the mitt, and fire it 127 feet so that a teammate can tag a runner who already has a head-start. The success or failure is absolute: either the runner is poised to score on a single, or is trotting back to the dugout.
Brave: I’ve seen Big Mac make some great throws over the years. Earlier this year I saw a throw right on Uggla’s shoe-tops. I’d like to set a bucket just to the right of 2nd base, and see how many balls McCann can throw in there.
4) 3rd-baseman barehanding a slow roller, and getting the runner at first. No time for gloving the ball. There’s time only for a hard charge and an off-balance throw.
Brave: In 5 years, I fully expect to visit Cooperstown and see a video of Chipper Jones displaying this feat.
5) Ball hit sharply deep to the hole between 3rd and short; the shortstop backhands it to get the runner at first. Speed, glove work, accuracy – everything you want from your shortstop is displayed here. Bonus points if the throw is made off-balance in mid-air.
Braves: the muscle of Rafael Furcal, or the grace of Alex Gonzalez. Take your pick.
So, that’s my five. Tell me your favorite(s.)