THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 11, 2007
A partner of mine at work likes to say there’s no such thing as a bad day at the Yard.
That was a pretty good day.
There’s nothing about Texas 7, Tampa Bay 4 that’s going get a page in next year’s media guide or more than 15 seconds on SportsCenter or the local news, but when your kids get a dose of home run fireworks, an overdose of nachos and burgers and ice cream, and a two-run oppo knock from their favorite player, it didn’t matter much that "Hello Win Column" flashed on the scoreboard at nearly 11:00.
It was a pretty good day for the rest of us, too. Brandon McCarthy wasn’t at his sharpest, and yet had it not been for a fumbled transfer by Jarrod Saltalamacchia on a ground ball to his right, McCarthy might have escaped with a scoreless effort. Those 27 pitches in the first signaled a short night for the righthander, but he gutted up and kept the Devil Rays off the board until the fifth, when he coaxed three straight infield ground balls to start the inning but got chased after three unearned runs had scored.
Mike Wood is solid. I don’t know if it will be here, but that’s a guy who wouldn’t surprise me if he has another 10 years in this league, even if he has to win a job every March, somewhere.
The run Wood permitted in the sixth would instead have been ESPN’s number one Web Gem if Frank Catalanotto had a legitimate throwing arm from left. Marlon Byrd made a sensational grab of an Akinori Iwamura skimming missile in left center and, with too much momentum to have any chance of planting and throwing, flipped the ball to Catalanotto, who threw to second as Iwamura pulled in with a double. There wasn’t a close play, but with a different left fielder there might have been, and it would have been spectacular.
Speaking of throwing arms, I can’t wait for Max to be old enough to appreciate, along with Dad, how different (and sometimes breathtaking) it is to watch the ball come out of Nelson Cruz’s hand.
Catalanotto’s rifle down the line was the shot hitters dream of. Hitting a ball so hard on a line that the fence can’t reach it. That it practically doesn’t have a trajectory.
And defining the use of all fields, two innings later Catalanotto dumps a bases-loaded pitch into left, extending a 5-4 lead to 7-4.
B.J. Upton is really good.
But he was no match last night for C.J. Wilson, which doesn’t distinguish Upton from the rest of the league right now.
Relieving Frankie Francisco with two men on and two outs in the eighth, the Rangers’ new (if unknighted) closer didn’t mess around with Carl Crawford, getting him to ground out to shortstop on three pitches, all strikes.
In the ninth Wilson got Upton to fly out lazily to right. Punched Carlos Pena out, touching 96 early in the count. And got Delmon Young to line into a hard out to center field to end the game.
I asked back on June 17 how many left-handed relievers in baseball you would trade Wilson for. It’s not even a discussion at this point.
The last time anyone scored on Wilson was July 6. Since then, he’s compiled these numbers:
Three hits. In 43 at-bats. (That’s an opponents’ average of .070 against Wilson over the last five weeks.)
Two wins. Two holds. And four saves in four chances.
Let me dial back for a second: Last nine appearances, dating back to July 20, which was a week and a half before the ninth inning became his? Wilson hasn’t allowed a hit.
I don’t think you heard me.
Wilson hasn’t allowed a hit.
Eleven innings, 31 major leaguers with a bat in hand, including several late-inning pinch-hitters designed to have a better chance to turn one around on Wilson than the men they were replacing. No hits. Yeah, two walks. But 15 strikeouts, and zero base hits.
The idea that Akinori Otsuka might not reclaim the ninth inning later this summer no longer has anything to do with a possible effort to keep his arbitration number down.
All told, including Wilson’s less-than-stellar June, he’s emasculated hitters to the tune of .168/.278/.235, with 30 hits allowed (just six for extra bases) and 52 strikeouts in 52.2 innings.
In a March interview with "Batter’s Box Interactive Magazine," when asked what the biggest surprise about the 2007 Texas Rangers would be, I answered: "Michael Young’s RBI total. Ian Kinsler’s All-Star Game appearance. C.J. Wilson."
For his career, Young’s 162-game average is 86 RBI, and he’ll probably end up right around there or a tick higher, so I missed that one. I felt good about Kinsler a third of the way to the All-Star Game but that didn’t work out.
And I’m almost ashamed to take credit for the Wilson prediction, because I didn’t think he’d be this good.
One advantage I admit to having over lots of other fans is that I get the chance to know a lot of these guys before they’re even 40-man roster candidates, let alone big leaguers. I put a lot of stock in how a player is wired, maybe too much.
When I predicted big things for guys like Michael Young, Jason Botts, and C.J. Wilson (and yes, Laynce Nix and Jason Romano and Spike Lundberg), it wasn’t just about OPS and hitting the ball where it’s pitched and strikeouts-to-walks. It’s about what’s inside these guys, which not only helps explain the numbers but promises that, really, we’ve seen nothing yet.
So when I see Young step in, regardless of the situation, the later in the game the better, and imagine what’s going on in his head as he pounds his batting glove the way that Max just started emulating last week, my adrenaline starts to tick up.
When I see Botts, despite knowing he’s in the audition of his life right now, making big league pitchers throw more than four times to the plate when it’s his turn at bat, and striking out less than he did in 2006, which was less than he struck out in 2005, I think about how that guy’s ability to stay within himself is as freakish as his physical presence.
And these days, when I see Wilson, the admitted adrenaline junkie, stride in from the bullpen, I think back to the kid I got to know almost five years ago, the kid who was a 2-10, 6.87 college pitcher when we drafted him and, in spite of those mound numbers from the collegiate hitting star, envisioned big things. The guy whose path to Arlington was derailed four years ago by Tommy John surgery, but who came back with a vengeance, and a mission. The ambassador for "straightedge," which should become a word and a concept that you soon won’t need to Wikipedia to understand if the Rangers market him correctly.
The dude who, as much as anybody on this team, makes it easier to imagine that things could get a lot better for this team in a timeframe much shorter than you’ll be told during those 15 seconds on SportsCenter or the local news.
And which gives new meaning to the concept, for me, that there’s no such thing as a bad day at the Yard.