The game started so well. My notes read "MATT CAIN!" with a bunch of lines under the name and a bunch of hearts around the lines. If you only look at the box score, you won't get it. If you lived through the fifth inning, raising children and watching them leave home as adults to face the real world as jaded and despondent as yourself, you won't get it.
But there was a glimmer, dammit, a glimmer, and I want to focus on that first. Glimmer before gloom, like the old Sinatra song never went.
Through the first four innings, Cain allowed one hit and no walks, striking out five. It wasn't just the raw numbers, the base runners he didn't allow. It was the way he was pitching. Take the at-bat from Mark Reynolds, one of biggest feast-or-famine hitters in baseball history. He should be easy to pitch to, but hard to throw to, if that makes sense. The successful execution of a plan should lead to good results against him, more so than most (if not all) hitters.
The first pitch:
A strike that didn't have to be a strike, a fastball with movement on the outside corner. In other words, a pitch that's a million times better to Reynolds than a get-it-in fastball down the middle.
A high fastball, the likes of which we took for granted during Cain's prime. It was a swing-and-miss pitch back then, and I don't want to overreact to the velocity or the movement, considering that almost every pitch is a swing-and-miss pitch to Reynolds, but that fastball looked familiar. It was a dandy pitch.
Heck, yes. Try to get him to chase the slider. It was supposed to be outside, and Cain had success with the slider early, so that was exactly where the pitch was supposed to be. You can see Reynolds flinch, so it made sense to go out there again.
Again, right where it should be. Get it too far over the plate, and he hits it 440 feet. Make him flinch with a teaser.
Okay, so it didn't work! I'm not as interested in Cain's swing-through slider as I am the execution of a plan. For the last couple years, Cain hasn't been capable of being this fine. He would do it for a couple pitches, then miss in a horrible, unforgiving spot. But for five pitches at Coors Field, he was writing a book on how to pitch to Mark Reynolds. It was called How To Pitch to Mark Reynolds and Dave Righetti narrates the audiobook.
On the sixth pitch, Cain said nuts to this:
And now you can get excited about the velocity and/or movement. The velocity and movement were the end of a story, not a disjointed sentence in the story you told yourself because you wanted to hear it.
I promise this wasn't the introduction that I wrote in the third inning, and now I've decided to repurpose it. It's what I want to remember about that interminable, stupid Coors Field game. For four innings, Matt Cain looked right.
In the fifth inning, he allowed two hard-hit balls in the first four pitches. One of them went over the fence. The other one was a horribly located fastball to Mark Reynolds. There were bloopers and bad luck afterward, sure, but don't take this as a proclamation that you can just ignore all of the bad things that happened because Cain looked great for a batter or two. You can break down an at-bat from a .230 hitter that make him looks like a hitting savant, and combined with the cognitive limitations that make it hard to tell a .230 hitter from a .300 hitter using observation only, it's a dangerous path to skip down. The runs happened. They count.
Still, this was as encouraging as Cain's looked in months, years, whatever. Let me hold onto those four innings like a woobie and leave me alone.
* * *
The fifth inning was a debacle, of course. Cain lost his touch, and the game sailed away from him. Walking a batter to get to Nolan Arenado seems like a bad idea, but so is missing with location in the zone to Carlos Gonzalez, so every option Cain had was corrosive and awful.
The decision to bring Chris Heston in as the fireman, the reliever who was going to fix everything, was more than a little curious, but 2000 Pedro Martinez isn't going to get Arenado out in that situation. As soon as he put on the orange-and-black cap, he would have hung the next 30 pitches he threw to Arenado. Or, as a piece of more useful evidence, Hunter Strickland was the fireman in the later innings, and he failed, so I'm not about to pretend that we know Strickland was going to dominate Arenado, either.
No, it was just one of those games. And when one of these games happens, I'm always curious to know what would happen if the manager just packed up his crap and told his players to get off the field and get some rest.
Bruce Bochy: C'mon, let's get to the airport. Forget it, Jake, it's Coors Field.
Matt Cain: I'm not Jake.
Bochy: I don't care. Let's get the hell out of here.
A fine? A suspension? A stern talking-to that hinted at very drastic, severe consequences if it were to happen again? The Giants made a mini-comeback, so obviously they shouldn't have forfeited the game on purpose. This is just a hypothetical scenario for pokes and guffaws. I'm genuinely curious, though. What would happen if a manager just told his team to quit in the middle of a game?
I don't know. But if it's going to happen at one ballpark ...
* * *
@mccoveychron why is posey so bad with the bases loaded. I don't get it— Jonathan Miller (@jonnyred9) April 14, 2016
I don't mean to pick on Jonathan, here. Of the several tweets I saw regarding Posey's inability to hit with the bases loaded, this was just the one directed at me. And it's true: Posey's been kind of a drag with the bases loaded.
Whoopsie-doodle, not sure how that unrelated GIF got in here, but the point stands: With the bases loaded in his career, Posey has hit .238/.243/.476 with four homers in 70 plate appearances. What does this mean?
It means the same as Posey hitting .250/.408/.295 with runners on second and third in 71 PA over his career. It means the same as him hitting .182/.280/.250 over 50 PA with a runner on second and no outs, compared to a .341/.451/.576 line with a runner on second and one out in 102 PA. It means the same as Posey having a .706 OPS in the eighth inning over his career (303 PA), when he has a .927 OPS in the ninth inning (236 PA).
Which is all to say: It probably doesn't mean anything. And if it does, you can't tell the difference. We're talking a sample of a few dozen at-bats, spread over several years.
Don't grimace when Posey comes up with the bases loaded next time. Smile. He's Buster Posey, and the bases are loaded. It's a good thing.