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Following perfection

by Matt Smith

The early games in MLB have a lot to live up to today after yesterday’s excitement and drama.

The two 21.05 BST first-pitch games were both memorable encounters.

Philip Humber pitched a perfect game for the Chicago White Sox against the Seattle Mariners.

Humber had bounced around several organizations before White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams took a chance on him a year ago. He responded with a very respectable 2011 campaign at the back of the rotation, which would have been reward enough from a waiver-claim pick-up; however adding a perfecto to his White Sox resume makes it look like an insprired decision.

Humber’s perfect game reminded me of the previous one achieved in the American League by Dallas Braden.

With all due respect to them, neither would have been likely candidates to etch their names into baseball history with a perfecto as they are not dominating pitchers. One of the joys of baseball is that players like Humber and Braden can have exceptional days where all the stars align and they do something special.  While it’s always great to see star pitchers like Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander adding no-hitters to their glittering careers, it’s just as fun to see the journeymen types enjoy their day too.

Humber certainly enjoyed his Saturday; the Boston Red Sox certainly did not.

Despite knocking Yankees starter Freddy Garcia out of the game after only 1.2 innings and taking a 9-0 lead, the Red Sox somehow found a way to lose the game 15-9.  Boston’s bullpen, primarily Vicente Padilla and Alfredo Aceves (both conceding 5 earned runs), was torched by the Yankees’ batting lineup, leaving manager Bobby Valentine under increasing pressure only 14 games into the season.

The Win Probability Added game graph on the FanGraphs website shows just how incredible the comeback was from the Yankees, and just how devastating a collapse it was by the Red Sox.

Source: FanGraphs

Boston found their stride last year after a dismal first month; however looking back to 2011 for positive signs is not going to ease the worries of the Fenway faithful.  No game is a ‘must win’ so early in the baseball season, but Valentine will be desperate for his team to respond tonight as his former ESPN Sunday Night colleagues visit Fenway for the final game of the three-game series.

It was a great end to an otherwise disappointing day for the Yankees. Freddy Garcia hasn’t pitched well in his three starts and the Yanks received worrying news about off-season addition Michael Pineda, who will be heading to see a specialist after a further setback with his shoulder injury. Andy Pettitte did get some good work in as he continues his comeback from retirement and once again we’re all reminded that you can never have enough good pitching options.

Other notable things from the box scores perused on a lazy Sunday morning …

One part of the Yankees’ pitching depth that was traded away over the off-season was A.J. Burnett.  He struck out seven Cardinals over seven shut-out innings in his debut for the Pittsburgh Pirates yesterday.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Burnett turns out to be a good addition for the Buccos.  Clearly he has had his struggles; however he does have good stuff and getting out of the pressure cooker of New York and the AL East division might offer the perfect opportunity to re-find it.

I didn’t watch the first game of the double-header between the Rangers and Tigers, but clearly the Rick Porcello that pitched so well against the Rays on 10 April didn’t show up yesterday.  Nine runs conceded (eight of them earned) in just one inning pitched is about as brutal a pitching line as a starting pitcher will get lumbered with.

Stephen Strasburg pitched six score-less innings against the Miami Marlins as Washington went on to win 3-2 in ten innings to improve their NL East-leading record to 12-4. Meanwhile the Phillies added Cliff Lee to their Disabled List yesterday after the starting pitcher suffered a strained oblique, while Roy Halladay walked four and was out-pitched by the Padres’ Cory Luebke as San Diego won 5-1 at Petco Park. There’s no need to worry about Halladay, but the Phillies’ NL East reign does look to be under threat this year.

Perhaps their biggest challengers will be the Atlanta Braves. They’ve won five straight and their much-vaunted back of the bullpen, which cracked under a heavy workload in September last season, looks to be on form.  Tommy Hanson went seven innings yesterday before turning the ball over to Jonny Venters with the Braves leading the D-Backs 3-2.  Venters struck out the side in the eighth and then gave the ball to Craig Kimbrel, who struck out the side in the ninth. You can’t shut the door in a more comprehensive fashion than that.

On to Sunday’s early games (all times in BST)

18.05. Texas at Detroit (Lewis – Smyly) *ESPN America
18.10. San Francisco at NY Mets (Lincecum – Gee)
18.35. Miami at Washington (Johnson – Gonzalez)
18.35. St. Louis at Pittsburgh (Lohse – Bedard)
18.40. Minnesota at Tampa Bay (Liriano – Niemann)
19.05. LA Dodgers at Houston (Billingsley – Rodriguez)
19.10. Toronto at Kansas City (Romero – Duffy)
19.10. Colorado at Milwaukee (Guthrie – Gallardo)
19.20. Cincinnati at Chicago Cubs (Cueto – Wells)
20.35. Baltimore at LA Angels (Chen – Haren)
21.05. Cleveland at Oakland (Masterson – Ross) *ESPN America
21.05. Philadelphia at San Diego (Blanton – Bass)
21.10. Chicago White Sox at Seattle (Danks – Millwood)
21.10. Atlanta at Arizona (Delgado – Kennedy)

01.00 a.m. NY Yankees at Boston (Sabathia – Bard)

The pitching match-up between Josh Johnson and Gio Gonzalez catches the eye, while the Giants-Mets game looks intriguing due to the indifferent form shown so far by Tim Lincecum.  Will today be the day that he gets his season going, or will his relative struggles continue?

All of these games are available to watch live via the MLB.TV subscription at MLB.com.  ESPN America is showing the Rangers-Tigers game from 18.00, followed by the Indians-A’s game from 21.00 and the Yankees-Red Sox game from 1 a.m..  The full schedule for today’s games can be found on MLB.com.

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