Red Sox: falling in love with the home run loses close games

I have little patience for seeing a rally squashed by a big swing-and-miss.  I’m talking about hittable pitches here.  My patience for this is especially thin in close games in which runs are at a premium.  The intent of these batters is clear: to hit a “big smash” over the fence, with all the glory, cheering, and maximal dramatic impact that that entails.

I saw this a few times in last night’s Red Sox loss in extra innings.  When all the Red Sox needed was a base hit to break the tie and score the run that would have won the game eventually, I saw two players take big, swinging-for-the-fences types of cuts to strike out.  They’re players who’ve had this problem before, and have overcome it before, so it’s troubling to see them regressing at this time.  Perhaps you know who I’m talking about.

In the fifth inning, the game tied at 2, David Ortiz is up with 2 outs and a runner on 3rd.  On a pretty straight pitch down the middle of the plate and slightly in, the kind of pitch he’ll normally demolish, Ortiz took a bigger cut than usual and completely missed.  Contrast that to his first inning home run, on a very controlled swing in which he looks like a guy who’s trying to make good contact.  He did, and it went plenty far enough, several rows deep into the stands.

In the ninth, with the game tied at 3 and a runner on first, Jarrod Saltalamacchia struck out taking a big cut on a pitch unquestionably over the plate, while slightly down and away.  A pitch he would probably do well to go the other way with for a base hit.  But instead, he tried to yank it over the fence, and shortened what could have been a game-ending half inning for the Red Sox.  Contrast that to his 12th inning leadoff base hit, a controlled swing on which he made good contact and lined one down the right field line.

These guys have both fallen in love with the home run in the past, and it’s gotten them into trouble, causing their on base percentages to plummet.  Thankfully, neither one has been that guy over the latter part of this year.  But with the amazing roll the Red Sox have been on lately, perhaps the feeling that “nothing can go wrong” has set in, and they’ve forgotten two crucial facts:

  1. The hardest part of hitting a baseball is lining up the ball with the sweet part of the bat.
  2. Guys like Papi and Salty are big and strong enough that they don’t need to swing their hardest to send the ball far over the fence – especially when they hit that sweet spot on the bat.

Succeeding at hitting at the major level is hard to do.  The Red Sox have made it look easy lately, and perhaps they’re starting to forget how much effort and focus it takes to make it look easy.  Guys, don’t get carried away now!

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