“I don’t like intentional walks,” my mother-in-law says, looking up from her iPad to reveal that she has been paying more attention to the game than I realized. “I always hope the next batter hits a home run or something.” Like the pitcher would deserve it for being such a wimp.
I might argue with her notion. I could begin a twenty-minute statistics-laden speech about all the outcomes after putting the man on base. But I know exactly what she means: just pitch the damn ball.
My team has already been eliminated from the playoffs, so I’m watching academically. It feels neutered at best, masochistic at worst. Like attending a grade school play starring other people’s children, I assume.
Without emotion driving the watching experience, there’s nothing to do except think about all the Moneyball-famed stats at play. Ya know, ma, the next batter has a terrible groundball-to-flyball ratio…
We sit and watch the guy getting paid millions toss a ball lazily through the air, a safe distance away from the limply drooping bat of the would-be batsmen. It’s a boring play, to be sure, and the fans are always going to boo it, even while football fans (of lesser intelligence, ostensibly, right?) have a calm understanding of the even-more-boring quarterback kneel.
I get why the intentional walk draws boos, but it’s also dramatic. Tantric, even. And I don’t mean the sexy statistics found strewn like rose petals in the silky spreadsheets of Baseball-Reference.com.
It’s because the lack of a time clock is the most objectively superior thing about baseball. A pitcher cannot win by taking a knee in the middle of the field. He can’t pass the ball or puck around to his teammates just to kill time.
What a pitcher can do is intentionally walk a batter to face a weaker one instead, or to create a double play possibility. It’s a gamble, though, and he still must pitch the damn ball to the next guy.
It’s Saturday night in Oakland, scoreless in the bottom of the ninth. The first two batters get hits. With men at first and third and nobody out, the home team is almost guaranteed to score and win. The intentional walk merely dents Oakland’s Wins Probability Added measure.
So to the chagrin of my mother-in-law and 40,000 Oakland fans, Detroit’s Al Alburquerque intentionally walks the next batter, Josh Reddick, a volatile and cocky kid from Georgia who hit a paltry .226 this year and claims to be, underneath his survivalist/conspiracist shaggy beard, “way better looking” than Brad Pitt. The Hollywood version of the guy’s real-life boss. Sometimes you just can’t let that guy beat you.
The Oakland Athletics fans had all spent hundreds of dollars to be there and every single one had bothered to dress up in the team’s terrible green and yellow palette. Detroit’s manager makes the smart move, but the Oakland fans deserve a show. They boo the intentional walk.
The delay only makes the exuberance to come moments later all the more cathartic, some three hours into the scoreless marathon. An unheralded catcher, a goateed roster-filler, steps up to the plate. The pitcher pitches the damn ball, as eventually he always must.