Thursday, June 29, 2023

Joe Sheehan Newsletter, June 29, 2023 -- "Domingo, el miércoles"


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The Joe Sheehan Newsletter: Domingo, el miércoles
Vol. 15, No. 59
June 29, 2023

Wednesday afternoon, I was responding to a reader email and in doing so, looked up the pitchers who were leaning on their curveball the most. Domingo German was second on that list, one of two pitchers throwing a curve 40% of the time. Later that afternoon, working on the Gaming newsletter, I wrote up the Yankees/A’s game with an eye towards picking the A’s, given German’s struggles since returning from his ten-game suspension for having sticky hands.

So I guess I was as well prepared for a perfect game as I’ll ever be. German threw 52 curves last night, more than half the pitches he delivered, and passed every sticky-stuff check on the way to retiring all 27 batters he faced. German threw the 24th perfect game in AL/NL history, the first since Felix Hernandez did so in 2012. It was a shot out of the blue; German allowed ten runs in 3 1/3 innings his last time out, and seven in two innings the start before that. In five starts since coming off his suspension, German had a 7.77 ERA, 7.49 FIP, and had allowed a 1012 OPS to his opponents.

Last night, the A’s couldn’t touch him. They struck out nine times, and of their 18 balls in play, few were in danger of becoming a hit. They swung at more than half the pitches German threw, missing on nearly a third of those. Forget walks; German went to just two three-ball counts last night, enabling him to pair his perfecto with a Maddux -- a shutout on fewer than 100 pitches. Per Baseball Savant, the A’s hit just two balls at 100 mph or harder, and just one ball that had better than half a chance of being a hit. Over the last three innings, there was no threat of a hit.

Given the way the sticky-stuff checks are handled, I have to take the absence of an issue last night at face value. I am certain that German didn’t violate any rules on the Oakland Coliseum mound last night. German, you may remember, was the subject of controversy in April, when the umpiring crew declined to remove him from the game despite his being warned multiple times for using excess rosin. So coming into last night. German had been strongly suspected of, or suspended for, violating the substance ban in 14% of his starts this year. It is dissonant, to me, to celebrate a player who was so recently disciplined for violating the foreign-substance rule.

That is not the only suspension on German’s record. He was banned for 81 games in 2020 under the domestic violence policy, following an investigation into an incident involving his girlfriend at a team event in September 2019. He served his suspension and by all accounts has behaved well since then. That’s hardly a factor in his pitching last night -- and it’s my policy here to focus on the field -- but German’s history adds to my ennui at this moment. It’s a lot of suspensions for one guy, you know?

There was also the way the game ended, in a blur. The A’s made their final nine outs on 25 pitches, and it wasn’t like they were hitting rockets. Just two of their batted balls in those last three innings were hit at even 90 mph, none at 100, almost all with no chance of being a hit. The A’s swung at 15 of those final 25 pitches, four of six in the ninth.

You think about watching the last moments of perfect games, and they almost always have tension to them. In 2012, the Rays made Felix Hernandez work, made him throw 44 pitches the last time through the lineup, and at least four pitches to eight of the final nine batters. YES Network was showing clips of David Wells’s 1998 perfect game. That one featured a seven-pitch battle to start the ninth, with journeyman Jon Shave eventually popping up for out #25. Not a single Twins batter went down on one pitch the last time through the lineup that day.

Last night? The A’s made the final three outs on the game’s final three pitches. From the moment German started throwing the first of them to the moment the 27th out reached Anthony Rizzo’s glove, 77 seconds elapsed. A minute and 17 seconds for three outs. There was no tension, no anticipation, no time to savor the moment, just a bad team trying to get to bed in advance of a 12:30 p.m. start the next day.

Perfection, like a flag, flies forever. Domingo German’s name is on a list now, a list with 23 other men of varying accomplishment who all share this, one day on which nothing could go wrong. Each of those days has its own story, from ones that are just lines in a record book to The Greatest Game Ever Pitched to “It is 9:46 p.m.” to DeWayne Wise to Gregor Blanco. With full credit to German for joining that list, I doubt his moment will be hyperlinked by a writer a decade from now.