There is almost certainly some special place in purgatory reserved for me, but I was rooting in the 8th inning last night for Jason Bergman, the New Orleans Zephyrs relief pitcher, to hit our Mike Colangelo.
You can see from my scorecard that Zephyr starting pitcher Andrew Good was having a bit of trouble with Colangelo, plunking him in the first, second and fourth innings. I didn’t know for sure, but I figured it was reasonable that no one had ever been hit four times in a single Pacific Coast League game, and I love nothing more than to witness an obscure baseball record.
Such is a night at what Miguel lovingly calls “the lab,” home of the Albuquerque Isotopes, the only baseball club ever named after a fictitious team in a Simpsons episode. Such is Triple A ball.
My buddy Dan, who is wise in the ways of baseball, sent around a scouting report on the major league prospects on the ‘Topes roster, which I printed out so Lissa and I could read and take note.
The only one in the lineup was Robert Andino, who had a short run last fall with the Florida Marlins. Dan had this to say about young Andino:
He’s young and fast. He’s got great range on defense and a strong arm. He may muff a few routine plays, though.
Dan was right. The kid’s a bit of an adventure to watch in the field. In the second, he started an electric double play, ranging behind second on a relatively soft grounder, one of those no-time plays where the only way to turn it was a backhanded shuffle to the second baseman to get it started. It was lovely. Then in the third he muffed two of what Dan might have accurately called “routine plays,” dropping a grounder before picking it up and firing too late to first (the recovery was again electric) and then misfiring on a grounder that should have been the third out (an easy force at second).
Such is the joy of Triple A ball – moments of great talent on display combined with the clear evidence that baseball is a much more difficult game to play than you would ever realize watching the major leagues.
I’m not a savvy enough baseball watcher to be sure of the explanation of the Colangelo hit-by-pitcher debacle, but I think Good, the Zephyr’s starter, is trying to learn how to throw a changeup. It is apparently a difficult pitch to throw – appearing, by the pitcher’s arm motion, to be coming at a normal speed but then lollygagging up to the plate like it has all the time in the world. The batter swings early, sees the mistake halfway through and tries to hold back, and the result is the awkward flail characteristic of a batter against a good changeup pitcher.
You rarely see a good changeup in Triple A ball. Back in the early ’90s, I remember opening day when a young stud named Pedro Martinez pitched for the then-Albuquerque Dukes, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ top farm club. We were sitting down the third base line, which makes it hard to pick up inside-outside pitching location. But you could see the embarassed flails.
In the first inning I saw a couple of those from ‘Topes batters against Good. I also saw a double and a home run by the ‘Topes batters, four runs in all, suggesting that, aside from an occasional nice changeup, Good didn’t quite have it all working as a cohesive package.
I wasn’t paying close enough attention to pick up the pitches that hit Colangelo in the first and second innings, but in the fourth I looked out at the scoreboard where they show the radar gun reading. 65 mph. Good hit him, apparently right in the small of his back, with a changeup.
As I said – baseball is a much more difficult game to play than you would ever realize watching the major leagues.