Monday, April 26, 2010

The Non-Save & Save Fears, Plus Other Fears that Make My 'Pits Wet

With the game tied at three a piece in The Windy City, Lou Piniella summoned the services of Carlos Marmol to face, at minimum, the number two to four Washington Nationals hitters.

Admittedly, I expected the worst. I thought about the worst possible scenario. Marmol walks two, coughs up a double to the left field ivies, the Nats take a two-run lead. Jim Riggleman calls upon Tyler Clippard (since Matt Capps needs a day off), to close it out against the top of the Cubs lineup. Clippard, given the golden chance to shine, also gets wild and gives up the base on balls to Theriot on four-straight pitches, only to eventually serve up the game typing homer to Derek Lee. The game goes on forever and I go to sleep crying.

No. Marmol came in and got it done by inducing two fly outs from Ian Desmond and Christian Guzman, and with Adam Dunn on second base, he coaxed a grounder to second base from Josh Willingham to close out the inning.

Clippard time? No. With a firm intent to rest the young Clippard, Riggleman stuck with Brian Bruney and he got wild and alternated singles and walks twice while just getting one out to allow Cubs and their Wrigley to celebrate the win at home. Marmol got the precious win and Team Inchon rejoiced.

Saved from possibly most terrible non-save fear come true, and feeling too lucky to have Jonathan Sanchez leading by three guns against Roy Halladay, when I saw the Chad Qualls was called in to save a three-run game for the Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field, a different type of fear sank its teeth into my heart: The Save Fear.

I pictured the worst. No, that was just a replay of Qualls getting rocked at home against the St. Louis Cardinals on 4/21. Then I turned to the game in Colorado. Todd Helton got on base by staring at the low sinker on a full-count pitch. Uh oh.

But things got a bit better. Much better, at least for the time being. Qualls went on to strikeout Troy Tulowitzki and Seth Smith. Then it got horrible. Qualls gave up a solid single to shallow center to Miguel Olivo. Then Bryan Price ran to the mound to have a little chat with Qualls. Leave the man alone. Or hopefully, Price gave Qualls the scoop on Ian Stewart. Lord only knows what he said, but Stewart promptly singled in Helton, on a 0-1 pitch just off the plate. God, please, no. Clint Barmes? Please. No. Jason Giambi pitch hit. Lefties have been killing Qualls, and he has been clutch for the Rockies in pitch hit situations.

Qualls started off with a ball, then with the crowd on its feet, sneaked in a fastball in the outside corner to even up the count.

On the third pitch, Qualls offered a hard sinker off the plate and Giambi fouled it off, late with the swing.

On the 1-2 pitch, Qualls fooled Giambi and he swung and missed on a sinker to the ground. Qualls twirled on the mound and pumped his fist. I got a couple of paper towels and wiped the sweat from my 'pits.

No. Wait. What's this? Sanchez was in trouble. in the top of the fifth, Shane Victorino singled then Polacido Polanco walked. With Utley at bat with no outs, both runners moved up with a double steal. Trouble trouble trouble.

Even though Sanchez got Utley to ground to first, Victorino scored and Polanco advanced to third. Still more trouble up ahead. Ryan Howard dug in, and fouled off the first pitch way up in the air and into the coward past the third base line. More sweat in the 'pits. Guillermo Mota warming up in the 'pen. Please, Sanchez, make it stop. With a 79 MPH slider, Sanchez got Howard to half-heartedly swing at the offering on the 1-2 pitch. After unable to get Howard to chase upstairs, Sanchez threw a 90 MPH fastball on the outside corner and got the desperately needed strikeout.

Now, with two outs, Werth came to bat. After striking out twice, I was afraid of Werth doing something. Adding to the trouble was the fact that on the second pitch of the at bat, Sanchez arrived at pitch count 100. With the 102nd pitch, Sanchez got behind the count 3-1. And with the 103rd pitch of night, he threw the same pitch that hit Utley in the top of the third, and gave up the first base to Werth on balls.

After a mound visit from Dave Righetti, Sanchez went ahead 0-1 to Ben Francisco, but it was clear that he was laboring and having a hard time finding the strike zone with his pitches. He was trying for the corners, nibbling, afraid of contact. He got behind 2-1 and threw to first. He should have forgot about Werth on first. He threw to first again without making an offering to the plate. Bad news. But it was OK. Francisco popped out to shallow left to end the inning. Disaster averted. WHIP got a beating, though, obviously. But Sanchez earned a win as the Giants bat went on to tack on a pair of runs on the bullpen preserved the lead.

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