The 2007 National League South regular season should hopefully be remembered for a long time to come, but not for the reasons you might think. There were very few close games: over the last five weekends of the season, there was not a single game decided by 3 or fewer runs. This was mostly due to the large proportion of games against teams from the division below that was built into the schedule. On paper, this is not necessarily a bad idea, as it should allow players from the division below (where there is more home-grown talent) to potentially benefit from facing stronger opposition. In practice, though, neither division enjoyed the experiment as there were far too many blow-outs. I am not saying that all such experiments are bound to fail, but I believe it is important for the season to be remembered as an example of why this type of idea is not guaranteed success.
Unsurprisingly, I can recall very few tactical substitutions taking place in 2007. Most changes were in response to an injury or simply to give everyone at the ground a game, like those 90th-minute substitutions in the football World Cup by a nation facing inevitable elimination. So at Richmond yesterday, when I found myself trying to recall how to mark a pinch runner on the scoresheet, I suddenly realized that my pencil was about to record a tactical move. It was 2-0 to the Richmond Flames in the top-half of the final inning butÂ the Croydon Pirates had managed to get the tying run on base with two outs, hence the decision to bring in a speedier runner.
Making such a move is called â€œplaying the percentagesâ€; it does not guarantee a positive result, but the person making the move believes it to offer the highest chance of success among the available options. In the example that happened at Richmond, it was believed that the chance of a play in which the additional speed on the bases would be of benefit outweighed the potential negative of removing a good batter from the line-up. Of the two options â€“ introducing a pinch runner or keeping the good batter in the game â€“ making the change was believed to offer the higher chance of success. As it happened, the next batter up grounded out to end the game, but the game had been made a better spectacle by reaching a position in which the percentages could be played.
A tight game, in which such tactical moves take on great weight, is more likely with fewer runs scored. It is of course possible for a â€œslug festâ€ to end up being won on a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the 13th, but for the most part it will be the low-scoring games where percentage baseball comes to the fore. This is why I like to see a pitching duel; itâ€™s not the performance of the pitchers that does it for me, but rather the scope for tactical nuances that becomes larger as a result (I should point out here that Iâ€™m an American League fan, but only because my first, and so far only, chance to watch Major League Baseball came in Seattle, a city on the â€œjunior circuitâ€).
The pitchers who were duelling at Richmond were Jared Uys for the Pirates and Brad Crinion for the Flames. Uys conceded a seven-pitch walk to the first Richmond batter of the game and a six-pitch walk to the second. Both scored on a one-out double from Ryan Bird, but after that he settled down. In retiring the last 14 Flames, Uys did not give up a hit, walk, or hit batter.
Crinion took a â€œpseudo-perfect gameâ€ into the final inning (the inning described above): the only baserunners allowed up to that point had both reached on an error. Itâ€™s worth a brief aside here to talk about pseudo-perfect games in the Major Leagues (by â€œpseudo-perfect gamesâ€ I mean ones in which the only baserunners reached on errors â€“ I donâ€™t know if someone else has already pinched the term for another brand of near-perfection).
According toÂ the Wikipedia page on perfect games, the last pitcher to throw a no-hit, no-walk, no-hit batter game in the Major Leagues (excluding true perfect games) was Terry Mulholland, pitching for the Philadelphia Phillies against the San Francisco Giants in August 1990. The reason it was not a perfect game was that the Giantsâ€™ lead-off hitter in the 7th inning reached on a throwing error from the Philliesâ€™ third baseman (a double play meant that Mulholland still faced the minimum number of batters). Mulhollandâ€™s pseudo-perfect game is not unique, but it is the one in which the error that prevented perfection occurred closest to the end. If I was the scorer in that game, I would have been prepared for a post-game visit from the third baseman asking for the error call to be changed to a hit.
Iâ€™ll finish by rounding up the other games played in the National League SouthÂ on Sunday. The Flames took the second game 9-4 to complete a sweep of the Pirates. Over in Bracknell, the Mets won both their games against the Flames (by scores of 16-3 and 26-0). At the time of writing, the scores from the National League North have not yet been published.