I kind of lost it in the comments over on one of the blogs the other day. Perhaps you saw it. It was regarding the man you see right here. I prattled on for too long, and I hate that I did that on someone else's blog. So, I might as well make it a post. And a night card post, at that.
You're not going to find a lot of people outside of Boston who will defend Josh Beckett. He rubs people the wrong way. He's aggressive, a bit cranky, and can be mean on the field. His pitch in the general direction of Bobby Abreu's head enraged, shall we say, a few people. It certainly irked the Angels. Was it intentional? I don't know. I think it could've been. Was it intentionally meant for an area above Abreu's shoulders? I have no idea how you prove that.
Beckett says the pitch was where it was because time was called so late that he had to let the pitch go, not knowing where it would end up, rather than pull it back and risk injuring himself. He says pitchers are taught that. I've heard that before. Do I believe that was what happened there? Again, I don't know. It's plausible. But you'll never hear a pitcher say, "Yeah, I wanted to hit him in the head."
No matter what side you're on, I agree it was kind of jerky for Beckett to come off the mound and start jawing at Abreu. That kind of fueled the let's-all-converge-near-the-mound-and-make-mean-faces-at-each-other garbage that I've seen too much of over the past 20 years.
But that aside, I'm defending pitchers like Beckett. Hell, I'm defending any pitcher that's aggressive. I like pitchers who dominate hitters (and, no, I would never say that pitchers need to throw at hitters to dominate). I've always liked the way Beckett worked on the mound. I liked the way Pedro Martinez worked on the mound. Heck, I even liked the way Roger Clemens worked on the mound until he turned himself into a cartoon villain. I like any pitcher who knows how to work a hitter, knows how to work the plate, and looks like he's in charge out there. I like pitchers who are fearless and instill fear.
Conversely, I like hitters who pitchers fear. In other words, I like excellence. I don't like stupid. That's basically it.
Over the years I have watched pitchers' earned-run averages skyrocket and teams settle for fourth and fifth starters that shouldn't even be in the major leagues. They settle for stupid. You can blame a lot of things for this: smaller ballparks, expansion, weight-training, steroids, pitch-count watchers. But you can also blame the fact that the scales very rarely tip in favor of the pitcher these days.
Pitchers don't get the high strike anymore. The knees-to-letters strike zone hasn't existed for years. A lot of pitchers are reluctant to pitch inside. I've heard accounts about pitchers and heard coaches say, "so-and-so doesn't like to pitch inside." Well, you aren't going to be successful pitching if you don't pitch inside. And I can't help but see that some pitchers don't want to pitch inside because hitters have successfully taken the inside pitch away from pitchers by getting outraged anytime a ball comes near them.
There has been a change over time from when a batter would get knocked down and say, "OK, I'm going to hit the next one through the box or out of the park," or "I'm going to get on base and take out your second baseman," to now the batter saying, "do I charge after the pitcher with my bat or without it?" That's not respecting the game. Provide your response within the confines of the game. Don't bring the game to a screeching halt because you think the pitcher was mean to you.
There have been so many times where a brawl has occurred and I'm looking at the TV and saying, "Why did this happen? That pitch wasn't intentional." And sometimes a player ends up getting hurt in brawls. And now you've got umpires warning teams over inside pitches or hit batters that couldn't possibly have been intentional. Pitchers and managers are getting thrown out for no reason at all. But here's the thing: not all pitchers know 100 percent of the time where the ball is going or can place it with the pinpoint control of Greg Maddux. Instead of assuming the worst in the pitcher, take a moment and think about the situation and maybe you'll know whether the pitch was intentional or not.
I know it's terrible when a player gets hit in the head. I feel awful when that happens. There are a number of famous examples. All of them tragic. I know that's why hitters get uppity. But the reality is it's a dangerous game. That ball is coming at you at 90 miles an hour, which creates the potential for all kinds of nasty.
But if pitchers are prevented from throwing inside, from attempting to control the strike zone and control the at-bat, like a batter controls the strike zone by crowding the plate (I'm looking at you, Jeter), then we end up with games with softball scores. 13-10, 11-8, 14-12. I have a low tolerance for a lot of American League games because there is too much offense and the games seem to take so long (I do not know whether AL game times average longer than NL games times. I do know this though: Yankees-Red Sox games last way too freakin' long).
I like the occasional slugfest. But I need to see well-pitched games mixed in there, too. We're seeing a few more than we used to during the peak of the steroid era. But I'd like to see a few more of them. Twenty-five years ago, if you had starters on your team that were in the high 4s in ERA, your team sucked. Now an above 4 ERA is kind of average. Yuck.
So that's why I cling so desperately to pitchers like Beckett, who have shown in the highest-pressure situation possible -- the World Series -- that they can be masterful on the mound. Sure, it's nice when you have pitchers who can dominate and stay demure like Maddux and Hershiser. But everyone's personality isn't the same. Some pitchers are high strung. That may cause you to not like the guy. That's fine.
I'm not asking you to like the guy. I'm just asking you to let him pitch.