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Catching Bullets
2006-05-01 23:07
by Ken Arneson

I have a new theory about where Esteban Loaiza's velocity went.

Jason Kendall stole it.

Last year, Kendall only threw out 17.9% of base stealers, allowing 101 stolen bases, the most in baseball.

This year, Kendall has thrown out 9 of 15 attempted burglars, a whopping 60% rate. Monday night, Kendall managed to throw out Chone Figgins trying to steal second on a changeup that was just barely off the dirt. It was the first time Figgins had been thrown out all year.

It was really a stunning throw. I mean, I've seen Ivan Rodriguez throw fast runners out on pitches like that before, but this was Jason "Two Hops To Second" Kendall. I really found it hard to believe my eyes.

He also hasn't grounded to third since I started my Kendall fast. He's now hitting a ton of fly balls, which isn't exactly the line drives Kendall used to hit with the Pirates, but things are changing. Today, he even swung at a first pitch. He wore batting gloves, which he never did before. It's a good sign that he's now finally trying something different, making some adjustments to try and find the old Jason Kendall-type results he has lost.

I hope Kendall can suddenly get his old swing back like he suddenly got his old throwing arm back, but if it happens I will truly be stunned. I will believe it when I see it.

Or maybe not. I'm still not quite comprehending that Kendall's throw actually happened in real life. When I think about it, my head automatically shakes itself in disbelief.

* * *

Kendall's throw was significant, too, in that the A's won a close 1-0 ballgame. The A's escaped with a victory that with any luck at all, the Angels would have won.

Ken Macha almost mismanaged this game away. Barry Zito had a great changeup all night, and took the team into the eighth inning with a shutout. Chone Figgins got a single with one out, on a ball that Eric Chavez couldn't reach because he was guarding the line against doubles. Which I have to question, because with Figgins, a single is almost as good as a double, since you know if Figgins gets on, he is going to steal anyway--Kendall's throw notwithstanding. Against anybody else, yeah, maybe you guard against the double, but against Figgins, you want to minimize the odds of him getting on base, because he can get himself into scoring position either way.

With Zito getting over 100 pitches, Macha had Kiko Calero up for Vladimir Guerrero a few batters down the line. This is where I think Macha almost blew it, because I think he should have had Joe Kennedy getting ready for Garret Anderson. Anderson hits Zito well to begin with, and Zito was getting close to his wall. When Zito walked Orlando Cabrera and wasn't really close with any of his pitches, I shouted out loud to the TV, "Oh, Macha, Zito is done!" But of course, you don't want to bring in Calero there, because lefties hit Calero pretty well. Calero is pretty much a specialist you bring in to face RHBs. At that point, it was too late, and Macha left Zito in to face Anderson, even though it was clear that Zito was out of gas.

And, of course, first pitch, Zito floats the worst kind of flat, hanging curveball you can imagine, and Anderson crushes it. Fortunately for the A's, Anderson hit it with just a bit too much arc, and Jay Payton caught it right against the right-field fence.

Two outs, and Calero comes in to face Vlad. On a 1-0 count, Calero throws a perfect nasty slider down and away, off the plate, and Vlad swings over it for strike one. "Throw three more of those, please," I said. I figured if you walk Vlad, it's not the worst thing in the world. I'd rather make Tim Salmon beat me. The next pitch is another slider, all right, but it's not down and away, it's right down the heart of the plate. I instantly shout, "Noooooooooooooo!" Vlad smokes a line drive, but it goes right at Nick Swisher in left field, who catches it for the final out of the eighth.

Justin Duchscherer comes into the ninth. It's still 1-0. Huston Street is apparently still not ready. I figure this is OK; I'd rather see Street come back from his injury in a somewhat less tense situation. Duchscherer throws Tim Salmon a cutter that moves in the wrong direction: right over the heart of the plate. Salmon smashes it to deep right-center, where Mark Kotsay snags it as he crashes into the fence.

So the A's threw three horrible pitches by three different pitchers to probably the three greatest hitters in Angels history. Each of those hitters did what they should have done with those horrible pitches: they hit bullets. But those three bullets were each caught, each by a different A's outfielder. And by catching those bullets, the A's dodged those bullets. The A's are back over .500 now, and they have good fortune to thank for it.

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