THE NEWBERG REPORT — AUGUST 26, 2007
A great night at the yard, which began with an opportunity just before gametime to stand on the first base line, a little closer to the bag than the plate, with a couple hundred other longtime Rangers fans. The thing that was most surprising was realizing an obvious truth, that despite production value and replays and every camera angle imaginable, 90 feet is 90 feet. They are playing our game, just more proficiently.
Vicente Padilla was super-proficient tonight. He was as aggressive as he’s been all year, especially with the fastball, and extremely efficient, keeping low pitch counts until running out of gas in the seventh. Of his 87 pitches, 61 were strikes, a terrific 70 percent rate. He didn’t walk a batter, and didn’t drill any, either.
His tempo was still maddening, but as long as he puts up numbers like he did tonight, I can live with it.
Interesting that Mark Connor made the pitching change in the seventh. Padilla must have said something to him to trigger the hook (probably an admission that he had nothing left); otherwise, surely Ron Washington would have made the trip to the mound to gauge whether to leave the ball in Padilla’s hand.
A few other thoughts:
I love how Marlon Byrd plays the game. He may not have one All-Star tool, but he does everything well, and seems to get the most out of what he has. He didn’t fill up the box score tonight, but he played solid defense, and contributed with two huge sacrifice flies.
I’m also becoming a big David Murphy fan, not so much because of his unconscious run at the plate (it’s a small sample), but because of the way he defends in the outfield. There’s a place for him on a good team’s bench.
I think we took advantage of a situation that gets overlooked in the game. Big-market, consistently competitive teams like Boston rarely have the patience to break in anything but the bluest-chip prospects. Murphy — and Kason Gabbard — were expendable as Red Sox but, with another team, might not have been. Nothing wrong with exploiting the best teams in baseball by going after the young players who aren’t on their very top tier. I think the Rangers might have done that here.
And while Eric Gagné threw a scoreless inning in an 11-1 thrashing of the White Sox today, lowering his Boston ERA to 9.00, Gabbard and Murphy aren’t the only players from that trade faring well for Texas. The most exciting player in the deal, 17-year-old center fielder Engel Beltre, tripled and singled tonight for the Arizona League squad, improving to .304/.380/.570 as a Ranger (after hitting .208/.310/.400 for the Gulf Coast League Red Sox).
Man, am I excited about that kid.
Josh Rupe started that AZL game, giving up a single and a walk in one inning of work, striking out one batter swinging and getting his other two outs on a flyout and a groundout. Great to see him back on the mound.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia hasn’t had lots of defensive chances in the running game (he’s thrown out two of four would-be basestealers since arriving), but you know a catcher when you see one if you pay attention to the way he throws the ball to third base on a strikeout, the way he runs to the mound and deals with his pitcher when the situation calls for it, the way he goes about his business. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is a catcher.
Speaking of throws after strikeouts, it’s a thing of baseball beauty to watch Adrian Beltre, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Jose Lopez throw the ball around the horn after an out.
The throw that Ichiro made to the plate in the bottom of the sixth (on Byrd’s first sac fly), as gratuitous as it was, was also a thing of beauty.
Strategic question: Jason Botts singled in the sixth and was stranded when the next hitter, Nelson Cruz, popped out to Lopez. Knowing Botts would likely not come up again until the eighth, if at all, why wasn’t Murphy inserted as a defensive replacement right away, in the top of the seventh? Why wait until the eighth?
As it turns out, Botts made a nice play in the alley to end the seventh, but I didn’t understand why Murphy wasn’t in the game. He came on an inning later defensively (and made a dazzling play on Joaquin Benoit’s second pitch), but I thought waiting that extra inning was an odd managerial decision.
Where was Gerald Laird in the top of the ninth? When C.J. Wilson ran in from the bullpen to pitch the ninth, Saltalamacchia was in the dugout, busy donning the gear, as he was on deck when the eighth ended. Wilson stood behind the mound and had to wait for Saltalamacchia to suit up and trot out before he could throw his warm-up tosses. Where was Laird while Saltalamacchia was getting ready?
As for Wilson, the finish was a little less clean than you’d like, but maybe someone out there has the time and the resourcefulness to do a little number-crunching. I would bet a lot of money that almost every closer has markedly worse stats in non-save appearances than they do when there’s a save on the line, and when Wilson entered with a 5-1 lead, I thought to myself that it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s not as dominant tonight as he usually is.
Getting the 27th out of a close big league game is more than a physical feat. Closers are wired differently. They have to be. There’s a certain mindset that thrives with the game in the balance, and another that falters in that situation.
C.J. Wilson may be more wired to close games than any pitcher that I’ve ever met. So it didn’t stun me that he wasn’t at his best tonight, with a little less adrenaline summoned up.
Still, it was good enough, as it turns out, and he finished off a really good day of Rangers baseball.