Pregame: Out of Joint
This is the 12th straight game for the Giants this month, the second of a three-game series with the Baltimore Orioles, the worst team in MLB. Last night the Giants, in orange, won a laugher. In the clubhouse an hour before the game, players watch television, look at their cell phones, play dominoes or cards, get dressed. Media guys stand around awkwardly or lean against the wall, waiting. It feels uncomfortable, like a room where people have forgotten about time; the players are loose, almost languid, almost in a dream state.
Bengie Molina sits in front of his locker, vaguely watching the Mets game. Molina will have an important job tonight, catching the first start for rookie Joe Martinez, just called up from Fresno. So how does the wizened veteran catcher look at the game tonight? How does he handle a new pitcher like Martinez? I let him pitch, says Molina. But do you call a different kind of game in this situation? He knows how to pitch; he knows his good pitches and his bad pitches; I don’t. He pitches. I catch his pitches.
Tim Lincecum walks in, the only player in a hoodie. It’s his birthday. He’s 26.
On the same day in 1963, Juan Marichal threw the first no-hitter in San Francisco Giants’ history; the first no-hitter thrown by a Latino.
Inning One: The Last Latino
Joe Martinez, out of South Orange, NJ, and Boston College is the most recent Latino to be added to the Giants’ roster, called up to pitch in the absence of Todd Wellemeyer. Why not Madison Bumgarner, you ask? Another story.
If you clicked the link to Joe Martinez’s name, you would see a screen with numbers measuring certain of his attributes as a pitcher. There are numerous websites with variations on that theme, but none that I could find to tell me about his life beyond baseball. He’s 27 but looks a lot younger, thin and raw. He doesn’t seem terribly nervous until I start looking at his feet.
Martinez’s first pitch is a fastball missing the outside corner. He finds the plate with his next fastball, for a strike. Does he throw a third fastball? He does. Does lead-off hitter Corey Patterson hit a soft liner between the Panda at third and Juan Uribe at short? He does. The O’s score, but Martinez gets out of the inning when Andres Torres makes a brilliant catch of Luke Scott‘s smash to deep left center. Another remarkable play for “Andres Torres” reads the scoreboard, as a video shows catching highlights from the last week: “Where fly balls go to die.”
The Baltimore pitcher, Jake Arrieta, is also a rookie, who in his major league debut last week dusted the Yankees. Maybe beginner’s luck. All three Giants in the bottom of the first make good contact, but all go down. At the end of one, Baltimore 1-0.
Inning Two: One-Dimensional Man
Joe Martinez is not the only major-league player whose life outside of baseball statistics is opaque. As the measurements have become more complex, with new technologies capable of delivering the numbers in real time, the player’s subjective life, not yet broken down into quantifiable bits, gets put aside. Compared to football, basketball, soccer and most other sports, baseball players are the least expressive emotionally. After watching Oakland, the pioneering saber-metric franchise, I was reminded of the Constructivist art movement in Bolshevik Russia. Constructivism sought to minimize the subjective–the personality, ideas and emotions of the artist–as much as possible. The same worldview informed the avant-garde architecture, psychology and organizational science of the time.
Alexei Gastev, who ran the Institute of Labor in the 1920s, carried out experiments to train workers to act like machines. In Gastev’s utopia, people would be replaced by “proletarian units,” and the human soul would not be apprehended through emotions but measured by a pressure gauge or a speedometer. That vision was rejected with the advent of Stalin and a return to the classics, but it has found an unexpected resonance in modern major-league baseball.
Inning Three: The Panda Strikes Again
After Martinez gives up another couple of hits and a run in the top of the third, the Panda hits one deep into center. No doubt. The foghorns go off before the ball clears the wall, and Sandoval, who always seems to lose weight after a home run, flies around the bases. It’s the sixth dinger this year by the Panda, the player with the most incandescently infectious personality on the team, especially around kids.
Inning Four: Wearing Down
Martinez seems to be getting less comfortable as the game progresses. He keeps changing his footwork. Maybe that’s just what he does, but he doesn’t look comfortable and he doesn’t seem in a rhythm. That may explain why, after six pitches, Martinez throws a curve that hangs enough for Adam Jones to send it sailing over the left-field wall; the Orioles are back up by three, and the air seems to go out of the stadium.
Even the Giants sag, but only for an instant, then it’s back to work. They get Martinez out of this inning and out of the next, but only after he’s loaded the bases and another run has scored. It’s 4-1 as he walks off in the middle of the fifth, but Martinez gets a warm hand from the crowd nonetheless. He’s pitched well, if not beautifully. He’s gotten no run support, and spotty fielding from his team.
Seventh-Inning Stretch: It’s Not a Perfect Game
Did Martinez get tired, or did tonight give us a fair picture of his talent, or was what we witnessed tonight more of the same random distribution of pitches, hits, runs that we’ve been watching for over 170 years, that is to say, luck?
Two weeks ago, in Detroit, Tiger pitcher Armando Galarraga was denied a perfect game when the first-base umpire, Jim Joyce, ruled the 27th batter to face Gallaraga successfully made it to first base. Replays from every angle showed the umpire’s call was egregiously wrong. Immediately there were calls for MLB to step in, overturn the call, and award the perfect game to Galarraga. After the wave of recrimination aimed at Joyce, there came another wave rejoicing in the error, insisting that MLB not overturn the ruling on the field, because the umpire’s mistake, his subjective judgment, they argued, was fundamental to the game.
Inning Nine: A Merciful Conclusion
The night has cooled off rapidly. Denny Bautista sits the Orioles down in order, but the Giants roll over without a whimper and the fans run for the exits. Tomorrow The Freak finishes the home stand he started.