9th inning losses are annoying. Very annoying. So much so that the baseball world may have incorrectly prioritized putting the highest-quality relievers at the end of games just to avoid the uncontrollable irritation.
Accordingly, it seems cruel that Monday's game isn't defined by the performances of Dallas Braden and Mark Buehrle. Braden's changeup was untouchable all night, as he struckout 7 (extra foolishly) in 6 innings, and yielded only a solo home run to Brent Lillibridge on a first-pitch fastball (it's becoming a remarkably awful idea to throw him that). Buehrle topped him by breezing through 8 shutout innings, and submitted a strong case for pitching to weak contact being a skill by allowing only two hits despite recording only a single strikeout.
FIP, or fielding independent pitching, measures pitchers by their
ability to generate the most favorable of the three true results
(strikeout, walk, home run). Allowing the ball to enter play, is judged
as submitting oneself to the crapshoot that is team defense. If you
guess that a sentence containing both the words "crap" and "shoot" is
negative, then you're right. But when Mark Buehrle is right, as he
truly was Monday, he makes this metric seem like much ado about nothing.
then in the 9th, Matt Thornton entered. His entry is a controversy in
itself given that Buehrle seemed to be rolling and was sitting at 99
pitches (not a low total, but certainly not gassed beyond measure). It
was a one-run game, and Thornton provided a potential 10 mph change in
velocity for hitters to adjust to in an inning. It's not an unsound
move if removed from the context where Buehrle was covered in pixie dust
and Thornton's on a mission to never close a game again. Blessed with
infinite amounts of hindsight, letting Buehrle walk out for the 9th with
a reliever ready seemed like the way to go, but I might as well go back
in time and kidnap Javier Vazquez before Game 1 of the 2008 ALDS if
we're going to play that game.
As I was saying, in came Thornton
in the 9th, who went about demonstrating the value of a pitcher taking
the game out of their fielder's hands with great haste.
hung a slider for a double to the Oakland 9-hitter and backup shortstop
Andy LaRoche (not an esteemed opponent), lucked out when Coco Crisp shot
a liner right to Paul Konerko, and most certainly did not luck out when
Daric Barton lifted a fly ball to left field that Juan Pierre lost in
the lights and dropped as the tying run scored. Jesse Crain provided
admirable relief coming in and pitching 1.2 innings, recording three
strikeouts, and throwing 20 of 23 pitches for strikes, but abandoned his
wipeout slider and was promptly taken out to left for the winning HR by
Kurt Suzuki in the 10th. Icepick in neck, game over.
two points to be addressed here. First, Thornton was almost certainly
not good. His velocity was back up (95.6 average fastball), but his
location still lagged behind, and the prodding he received to
incorporate more secondary pitches certainly didn't yield early fruit.
He's off his game, and if there's any merit to the rotating closer idea
Ozzie floated, he'll be given time to work back to form without having
to answer questions about whether he owes everyone a beer after every
Second, the drop by Pierre is a freak occurrence.
"Santa's not real" is an equally satisfying answer at this point because
said 'freak occurrence' also took place three days prior. But if Juan
Pierre truly can't catch balls that hit his glove anymore, then yes, I
could step out to microwave some popcorn and his career will be over
before it's ready. However, I wouldn't expect a breakdown like that
from Pierre anymore than I would from Quentin, or Teahen, or even Air
Bud (even post-cancer, when that dog only had three legs). It just
can't keep happening, and it won't.
I don't think standing on my
bleacher Monday night right after the loss and screaming, "Hey, be
patient!" at the conclusion the 10th inning would have been quite enough
to draw a punch in the face, but it would have perhaps come
uncomfortably close. It's hard to accuse Guillen of mismanaging the
game when the only run he received all game came from the defensive
replacement he slated at the 9-spot, but the White Sox are beginning to
rack up games where they outplayed their opponent and lost.
Sure, it happens...but I'd rather it stop.