Strikeout pitcher vs. contact batter
Published: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 8:11 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 at 8:11 p.m.
Baseball can be a lot of things, but it is never better theater as when the crowd goes silent and stares. They stare at the pitcher who has unhittable stuff about to throw to a hitter so hot he could wear a blindfold and still slap a single into right field while tying his shoes.
Welcome, folks, to the 2012 World Series, when Detroit’s Justin Verlander pitches to the Giants’ Marco Scutaro in the bottom of the first inning tonight.
It’s a matchup any lover of this contact sport will appreciate and will not want to miss by going to the salad bar.
It’s Verlander, who led all of Major League Baseball in strikeouts in 2009, 2011 and 2012.
When asked when he made the decision to start Verlander in Game 1, Tigers’ manager Jim Leyland said, “When Justin told me he was pitching Game 1, I said OK.”
It’s Scutaro, the MVP of the recent NL championship series, owner of a 10-game postseason hitting streak in which he is batting .425, this season’s toughest National League hitter to strike out.
“But, geez,” said Scutaro, who will never puff out his chest, “sometimes I can’t even hit the ball hard in batting practice.”
If one were to go strictly by the numbers, this wouldn’t appear to be a dream confrontation. Verlander is last year’s Cy Young Award winner and, along with Washington’s Stephen Strasburg, possessor of the best stuff in baseball.
Scutaro, on the other hand, is last year’s forgotten player, has been for the past seven years. Scutaro is playing for his sixth major-league team. Scutaro has been waived twice and traded four times. And how about this for a kicker: Giants general manager Brian Sabean announced on July 27 that Scutaro, just acquired in a trade with Colorado, posed absolutely no threat to Ryan Theriot’s status as the team’s starting second baseman.
“If you had told me then I would be playing in a World Series,” Scutaro said, “I would have punched you in the face.”
Oh, and let’s not forget this. Scutaro has batted against Verlander more than any other Giant and has a .217 batting average to show for it, 5 hits in 23 at-bats.
Asked to remember any of those at-bats against Verlander, Scutaro can recall one, in 2006.
“I was looking for a curveball away,” Scutaro said, “and he threw me a 98 mile-an-hour fastball right here,” drawing his right hand across his face. He offered a look, clearly, he would not like to revisit.
“So what happened in that at-bat?” I asked.
“I dunno,” Scutaro said. “All I remember is that pitch.”
When someone said what Scutaro just said, along with that .217 batting average, I’m thinking Verlander already has him locked up. But that was six years ago. Six years later, Giants hitting coach Hensley Meulens says Scutaro has perfect mechanics at the plate, proper weight distribution and transference, bat control and analysis of what’s coming next.
It’s come to this: Scutaro was the toughest batter to fan in the National League this season, one strikeout every 13.9 plate appearances. In fact, in his first 198 plate appearances for the Giants this season, Scutaro swung and missed at only six pitches. That’s it. SIX pitches.
“Somebody just told me that the other day,” said Giants outfielder Xavier Nady. “Are you kidding me? Most of us do that in one day. Marco is so good, that we joke with him. We tell him he’s the best hitter we’ve ever seen.”
Verlander vs. Scutaro, admittedly, is not one of those classic World Series matchups we anticipate: Power pitcher vs. power hitter.
This is not Game 2 of the 1978 World Series when Dodger rookie Bob Welch basically dared the Yankees’ Reggie Jackson to hit his fastball; and Jackson didn’t, striking out and throwing his bat so hard in anger, it shattered.
This is not Game 4 of the 1963 World Series when the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax tried to blow one past the Yankees’ Mickey Mantle, and the Mick took Koufax out of the yard.
No, this matchup doesn’t have that kind of electric backdrop. But a classic matchup need not be all about power. It is about the elemental battle of pitcher against hitter. So even if the law of averages say the pitcher will win 70 percent of the time, it feels different now, maybe 50-50. Especially when it’s David and his bat control and his perfect mechanics ... .ready to strike down Goliath and his 98 mph heater. It’s power against placement, and that may sound dull until you remember dull hit .500 in the NLCS.
“Hitting is a feeling,” Scutaro said.
That’s why this is a classic matchup.
Marco Scutaro will be standing up there tonight, looking at Verlander, telling himself, “Thou Shall Not Pass.”
With Verlander standing there on the mound, looking at Scutaro, telling himself, “Thou Hath No Chance.”
Thou should be watching.
You can reach Staff Columnist
Bob Padecky at 521-5223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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