Posted by: bkivey | 22 April 2012

Pitch Perfect

On 21 April the Seattle Mariners hosted the Chicago White Sox at Safeco Field. The Mariners bats have shown some life this year, along with solid fielding and a lack of base-running errors that have plagued them in recent seasons.  None of that mattered yesterday, because starting Sox pitcher Phil Humber pitched a perfect game. In 143 years of Major League Baseball, that feat has only been achieved 21 times. No hits, no walks, no hit batters. First base may as well have been on the Moon for all the success the Mariners had in reaching it. 27 up and 27 down.

Humber only needed 96 pitches to get through the game. He expended a paltry 20 pitches to get through the middle innings, and then needed a mere six pitches each for the sixth and seventh innings. In keeping with baseball superstition when a pitcher has a no-hitter going, Humber’s teammates had less and less to do with him in the dugout as the game progressed. After Mariner Brendan Ryan struck out to end the game, Humber was mobbed by his team as the fans in the stadium gave him a raucous standing ovation.

A perfect game is both a team and individual effort. The pitcher has to have great stuff, but the catcher has to call and catch a good game, and the fielders have to turn in solid performances. While it’s possible for pitchers to combine for a perfect game, to date every one has been thrown by hurlers going the distance, as Phil Humber did yesterday. Chapeau!

That’s Why They Play the Game

On a pitch of a different sort, the Portland Timbers pulled off the upset of the year at home last night against Sporting Kansas City. The visiting club owned a perfect record going into the game at 7 – 0, and are far and away the best team in MLS. Before the game, they’d only allowed two goals through seven games. Portland has a solid lock on last place in the Western Conference, although in fairness, it’s a weak conference, and if the Timbers can string together a few good games, they’d be right in the thick of things.So last night should have been a fairly easy win by the visitors.

Except Portland has something that no other MLS team has: a home field advantage like nobody’s business. People who know have compared the experience favorably to anything found in Europe. The fan club is known as the Timber’s Army, and they’re loud and proud through the entire game. This isn’t a few dozen people, but a cast of thousands. The mascot runs around the stadium with a chainsaw. After every Timber’s goal he slices a disc of wood from a large log set up in the north end of the stadium. The slice is passed up and down the stands so everyone can touch it, and so be connected in a tangible way to the action on the field.

As for play on the field, the Timbers are mediocre at best. They did well when they were in the USL, but the move to MLS hasn’t been kind to them. This year has seen a disturbing trend toward mental and physical fatigue in the last fifteen minutes of the game. Several close games have been lost this year toward the end of the game. When the clock hits the 75-minute mark, fans get nervous. So it was last night. After an own-goal by Sporting KC in the first half, the Timbers had tried unsuccessfully to score another goal, but couldn’t put the ball in the net. The latter half of the second period saw KC living in the Timber’s end of the field, but the home team managed to deny the visitors through regulation and four minutes of stoppage time. Stoppage time has not been kind to the Timbers this year.

It’s not often that the lowliest team in a league can hand the top-ranked team a loss, and all the more satisfying to do so while ending a four-game losing skid in one of the best atmospheres in sports.

 

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