Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, July 25, 2023 -- "Citizens Bank Park at Camden Yards"


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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: Citizens Bank Park at Camden Yards
Vol. 15, No. 71
July 25, 2023

I had as much fun at the ballpark last night as I have had in a long time.

About once a year now, I make the trip down to Philadelphia for a game at Citizens Bank Park, sometimes invited by one friend, sometimes as part of a group of others. Last night, as it turns out, it was all the people in that last sentence going together. We went to dinner in South Philly, met up with some media types at the yard, and then settled in for a very entertaining night of baseball. It was, from start to finish, the way a summer night at the ballpark is supposed to be. We watched some ball, we caught up with each others’ lives, we made fun of the guy -- who may have looked like me -- who returned to the wrong section after a concession run...we had fun. That’s the only word for it.

It didn’t hurt that we got a fantastic game between two good teams. Dean Kremer and Christopher Sanchez provided a very surprising pitchers’ duel, each tossing a quality start across seven innings. For Sanchez, it was just the third time in ten professional seasons that he’d gone seven innings, and his first in the majors. Kremer continues to make his case as the best pitcher in baseball history with a man bun, allowing a run in seven frames. It wasn’t a case of generous umpiring, either. Neither pitcher needed even 100 pitches to go seven, and while there were some hard-hit balls, including homers by Jordan Westburg and Ryan Mountcastle, both Sanchez and Kremer were in control.

After they left, though...the Orioles fan in our group noted early that neither Yennier Cano nor Felix Bautista was going to pitch in the game, the two having been worked hard over the weekend. Once Kremer was pulled to start the eighth, our pal’s worry about the rest of that bullpen came to fruition, as Danny Coulombe and Bryan Baker combined to allow the tying run, and Cionel Perez attempted to blow a save in the ninth. Combined, Orioles relievers last night faced ten batters, allowed four hits and a walk, struck out no one, and retired just four of the hitters they faced. It was a bit of a miracle the Os held on, and it underlined their need for relief help behind Cano and Bautista. Shintaro Fujinami, picked up from the A’s, isn’t a high-leverage reliever.

The Orioles’ bullpen meltdown in the eighth, where they retired one batter and got two baserunning outs, provides an opportunity to make a point I have been hammering on Slack a bit: Not all baserunning outs are TOOTBLANS, and sometimes bad baserunning succeeds.

The latter is something I’ve been thinking about with Elly De La Cruz, who is one of the fastest, most exciting players in baseball, but who also makes really shaky decisions. On July 5 against the Nationals, with the Reds up 7-2, De La Cruz doubled leading off the eighth. He then stole third. Up 7-2 with nobody out, attempting a  steal of third is a bad choice. He was safe, so nobody talked about it -- Elly got credit for aggressiveness -- but the decision is just awful. De La Cruz has a number of these plays on his record, trying to take bases where the risk/reward calculus doesn’t make sense. He’s not the only one, and I’ll bet on him improving his judgment long before he loses his speed. Across the sport, though, we’re seeing a lot of questionable choices by baserunners. The Red Sox alone tried to set baserunning back 50 years in their Sunday night win over the Mets, nearly TOOTBLANing for the cycle. As triples are for regular cycles, baserunning outs at first base are for TOOTBLAN cycles. You have to get a little lucky.

What we got in the eighth inning in Philly last night, though, were hardly errors. With first and second and nobody out, Edmundo Sosa hit a rocket right at Ramon Urias, who snagged it and doubled Johan Rojas off at second base. That’s a baserunning out -- and it was just barely one -- but there’s no reason to call Rojas a nincompoop. He’s getting a good secondary lead as the tying run, and Sosa ripped the ball to the wrong guy.

Two batters later, after a Bryce Harper single, Nick Castellanos lined a ball into left-center field on a 3-2 count. Kyle Schwarber scored from second easily to tie the game, and Harper, running on the pitch, never hesitated in trying to score from first. It took two good throws by Colton Cowser and Jorge Mateo to nail Harper at the plate. Harper was out, but not by much. He forced the Orioles to make a play, and they did.

From the first-base grandstand, I had a great view of the whole play, and it was clear that Harper was going as he moved from second to third with the ball still not in a fielder’s hands. Now, I had nothing invested in the outcome, no dog in the fight, and yet that moment, when I realized Harper was going, sent a thrill through me. This is the stuff we wait for as fans, winning run coming home, outfielders charging, infielders getting set for a relay, catcher imploring all of them to get him the ball.

It was a baseball play. Great hitting, great running, great throws, great tag.

It was also one that made maybe a third, maybe more, of the crowd happy. The game was a sellout, no mean feat for any Monday night, and many of the 44,000-odd tickets sold were held by Orioles fans up from Baltimore. They made their presence known early, with the traditional “O” leading off the last stanza of the national anthem, and throughout the night. That was one of the wild things about Harper’s dash; usually, a play like that ends with a groan, the home team’s hero thrown out at the plate, but last night we got a fair number of cheers after James McCann got the tag down. The energy in the park was raised a level by the large contingent of Orioles fans, creating good sports tension inside the park throughout the contest. The size and enthusiasm of the crowd was a big reason why it was such a fun night. It had an October vibe.

Not everyone at the park had a good time. Trea Turner, in the midst of the worst season of his life, made a pair of errors, went 0-for-3, and was ejected in the fifth inning after being called out on strikes (correctly) and arguing. I can’t say I’ve seen Turner lose his temper very often, and I think his doing so last night was less about one call and more about four months of frustration. Turner, who signed an 11-year, $300-million contract off of three straight top-11 MVP finishes, is hitting .247/.300/.387, all career lows by far. He’s still one of the best basestealers in baseball, and he has a chance to set an esoteric record.

Volume and Efficiency (Most SB, 100% success rate)

Chase Utley       2009   23
Alcides Escobar   2013   22
Trea Turner       2023   21
Quintin Berry     2012   21
Kevin McReynolds  1988   21
Paul Molitor      1994   20

Kevin Kiermaier is 11-for-11 this season, so he could make this list as well.

I’m sure this will turn Philly fans -- who saved their loudest cheers of the night for Turner’s ejection -- completely around.

I watch most of my baseball on screens scattered around my apartment, and I enjoy that. My wish for all of you, as we head towards the back half of the summer, is that you get a night like I had last night, with good seats watching good ball with good friends.