illustrations by Samara Pearlstein
Where to even begin with the weirdness that Justin Verlander contributed to this game? I suppose we can start by trying to describe the actual play, and we’ll work from there.
In the official MLB play-by-play report of the game, the play looks like this:
Daric Barton walks.
With David DeJesus batting, Daric Barton advances to 2nd on a balk.
David DeJesus walks.
But that doesn’t even BEGIN to come close to explaining what actually went down.
David DeJesus was batting with Barton on first. Verlander ran the count to 2-1 on DeJesus, then he threw… a thing. It was the weirdest looking throw, and the ball took a correspondingly bizarre path to the plate, ending up behind DeJesus, who executed a frantic hop-n-skip to get out of the way. DeJesus claimed that he had been clipped by it (after replays, I’m still not sure if he was or not; if he was, it was just a slight brush of the pantleg) and was initially sent down to first base.
But the umpires had to get together, because nobody knew what the hell Verlander had just thrown. It didn’t look like anything you should ever see in a professional baseball game. In general, it looked like Verlander meant to throw a pickoff to first, only his brain cramped up and he threw it to homeplate instead. A pickoff toss to home.
Obviously the umpires weren’t sure what to do with this. What should be done with DeJesus? Was he on first, or still at the plate? If he was batting still, what was the count? And what about the runner at first, did he stay on first base or move up to second? How should this incredibly weird play look in the official scorebook? Does baseball have words to describe what just happened? Is there a scoring symbol for it?
When the dust settled, Barton had been placed on second, but DeJesus had been called back and was still batting, with a 2-1 count. It was all rendered more or less moot shortly thereafter when DeJesus walked anyways, but… but…
Initially they ruled it an E1, basically saying that it was a bad pickoff throw. This didn’t explain why Barton was moved up to second, because in the original play he just stood there at first watching until DeJesus had been fake-awarded a HBP and took his base. Then they changed the ruling to a balk, which explained the guy moving up to second, but, as Rod pointed out, Verlander had stepped fully off the rubber, as he would when making a normal pitch. He just looked ridiculous while doing it, because half his body was acting like it wanted to throw a pickoff to first and half his body was acting like it wanted to throw a pitch to the batter. That’s not really a balk.
The problem is that Justin Verlander had executed a play that did not exist in Major League Baseball. The umpires couldn’t agree on the correct way to score it and the right things to do with the runner/batter/Justin because there WAS no baseball-correct answer that would cover every angle. Attempts to fit that play into the constraints of an acceptable baseball action were always going to fall short, especially once they sent Barton ahead to second base. It was an impossible situation.
If baseball was the fabric of spacetime, Justin Verlander basically just generated a black hole in it.
WHO’S YOUR TIGER?
Notes from the rest of the game:
–I hear you, Baseball Game Vuvuzela.
–Do any of you actually vote in that Player of the Game McDonald’s thing? Do you know anyone who does? Who are the people actually texting in their votes to that thing? I feel that if we can figure this out, we will learn why the winner 85-90% of the time is Brandon Inge, and in the process we will make important sociological discoveries. This is a thesis paper waiting to happen, people.
— “He’s walkin’ on his tippy toes, I see you JV.” This from Rod, after Verlander had struck out 5 through three innings. What does this even mean?
–At one point the cameras focused on the bullpen, where Jose Valverde was sitting next to Enrique Gonzalez. They were chatting, the pink backpack underneath them (AlAl is carrying it these days), and then they fist-bumped. Bro-tastically. This team is really into the brotastic fist bump.
–Verlander had been cruising along until the 4th inning, where suddenly the A’s had four hits in a row (three doubles) and scored three runs and all the wheels fell off. All of them, everywhere. He had thrown 100 pitches by the 4.2 innings mark. JUSTIN. WHAT HAPPEN.
–I wish you could have all heard the way Rod Allen said “Whaaaaat?!” when informed of Craig Breslow’s Yale degree (molecular biophysics and biochemistry). I can tell you that that was his reaction, but you really need to have heard it.
–Brad Thomas for the Tigers was followed by Grant Balfour for the A’s. Aussie Time in Oakland!
–Here’s what I like about Oakland: not that many people show up to the games, but the A’s fans who DO show up tend to be completely insane, over-the-top, foaming-green-and-gold-at-the-mouth A’s fans. You have to respect that.
–April 17 is Ryan Raburn’s birthday! He’s turning the big 30. Congratulations on surviving into adulthood, Rhino!