21 July 2007

The Equation of Doom

by Joshua Worley

Today the equation of doom nailed Jorge Sosa, pitcher for the Mets, but after the Mets went up 4-0 on the Dodgers I was too mired in despair to really believe it would happen, even though I could see it coming. I went to the game as part of Dodger Thoughts day, and was present for the question and answer session before the game with Frank McCourt, owner of the LA Dodgers. I hope to write more about this in a few days, but for now I'll just say that it seemed like the sort of thing he does frequently with fans, I'm guessing usually season ticket holders. He opened with corporate speak, a haze of buzz-word words and complicated, awkward sentences that boiled down to saying he wanted everyone in the organization to be on the same page. After that he did better, and emphasized all that the Dodger organization is doing to listen to what the fans and give the fans a better experience. He seems to mean well, and to me it says something that he would even bother to take the time to talk to fans like this. But in the end his judgement will come based on what tangible results are produced, rather than what he says. It's clear that the Dodgers plan on staying in Dodger Stadium for a long time, which is good foundation to start with.

Back to the equation of doom. At first it was the Dodgers who seemed doomed, when they couldn't buy a hit early on and the Mets twice put up two in an inning on Penny. It was demoralizing when Penny gave up an RBI single to under-achieving prospect Lastings Milledge with the pitcher up next in the second, and it was devastating when the next inning he gave up a home run to David Wright. At this point Dodger defeat felt certain, even though I should have known better.

The thing is, all six Dodger outs in the first two innings were fly ball outs. Jorge Sosa was yielding a ton of fly balls the entire time he pitched. All the early ones went for outs, yes, and it may have seemed he was on his game, but if he kept on giving up fly balls to a good lineup his doom was assured. He did keep giving up fly balls, and his doom came.

The equation of doom:

many fly balls + good lineup = offensive explosion

A fly ball pitcher can be effective if he strikes out a fair number of hitters and doesn't walk anyone. Sosa didn't strike out enough batters, he walked too many, and most importantly nearly every batted ball he gave up was in the air. When you're facing a lineup with Kemp, Ethier, Martin, Loney, and Betemit you are doomed if you allow too many fly balls. By the way, it was great to see all those hitters in the same starting lineup. Why can't this happen at least 5 games a week?

The first fly ball to hurt Sosa came from Penny, of all people. For a moment I was so sure it was a home run, but it came up just short and Penny was lucky to get a double. Pierre's clutch single with two outs to drive Penny home felt huge psychologically, at least to this fan. I just couldn't bear to see the Dodgers' first fly ball dividend be wasted.

The two other really memorable Dodger fly balls were Betemit's deep single and Kemp's home run. I was so sure Betemit's fly ball bounced over the wall and struck the stairs behind before coming back onto the field, both seeing it live and seeing the replay on the diamond vision, but it wasn't ruled an automatic double and known slow-poke Betemit could only get a single on it. I wonder who would win a foot-race between him and Penny.

Kemp's home run had us out of our seats the moment it was hit, so majestic was the flight of the ball off the bat. It just seemed like a home run the whole way. When the ball reached its peak I worried for a moment, because it was so high, higher than most home runs, but Kemp had indeed got all of it and it went for a towering, 3-run blast to put the Dodgers ahead for good. To state the obvious, that was great. When the dust had settled in the fourth inning, the Dodgers had provided the answer to the equation of doom for Jorge Sosa on July 21: 5 runs.

Heed the warning of the equation of doom, pitchers. Fly balls kill. Especially when there's a Bison loose.

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