Monday, October 03, 2016



Bird migration has become a topic of some discussion in these parts lately. Apparently, the Orioles are not quite ready to head south, and are planning to hang around the Metropolitan Toronto area for the next couple of days. The Blue Jays have consented to stay around, and join them for a friendly game. It is a wild card game, and it was a wild ride just getting there!!

I am going to focus on two players who might make the difference in the game. Mind you, when you read this, one of those two teams is heading somewhere to play again. The other team is heading to the golf course.

Roberto Osuna gets to pitch for the Blue Jays near the end of the game. He is know as a "closer". It is his responsibility to shut down the offence of the opposition to preserve wins. Closers usually throw very fast, and have a couple of other exceptional pitches. They throw heat, and have nasty out pitches. Osuna has pitched brilliantly most of the season. He falters occasionally, and that is never a good thing. You could compare him to a goaltender in the last five minutes of a hockey game. If he is sharp, you win. If he starts to fight the puck, dire consequences. Both the goalies and the closers are the last line of defence.

Mind you, there are eight other players on the field to help the closer. In their last game of the season, both Donaldson and Tulowitzki made brilliant plays to preserve the Jays' victory. A bobble on either one of those ground balls, an errant throw, and the season would have been in jeopardy.

Ultimately, it is up to the closer to shut the door. He is given the ball to pitch with a lead, and he must preserve that lead. For many years, the best at it was Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees. Opponents were never happy to see him strolling from the bullpen to lock down the game. He did it with guile, not speed, and he did it successfully.

The Baltimore Orioles rely on Zach Britton, with good reason. He has been called upon many times this season to preserve wins for his team. Not once has he faltered. He relies on a "power sinker" to take care of the opposition. He has been perfect this season, and may be in line to receive the Cy

Young Award as the best pitcher in the American League. Rarely is it doled out to a reliever; in this case, it might be justified. This is by far his best season as well. He had pitched in 183 games up to the beginning of this season, and had an ERA of 3.70. Not too shabby. But his ERA this year is under one, something like 0.99., meaning that teams have averaged less than one run over nine innings when he pitches.

Naturally, the trick for the Blue Jays is to avoid Britton. If they have a large lead heading into the latter stages of the game, that helps.

In a recent game, Osuna prepared to face a Red Sox batter, with a runner on third base. All of a sudden, the umpire jumped out from behind home plate and gestured to the base runner to head home. There was a large collective gasp in Beantown. Osuna had balked! The score was tied. The Jays were on the ropes. Fortunately, they recovered sufficiently to earn the berth in the Wild card game.

There is a variety of illegal motions that a pitcher can do to necessitate a balk call. There are 15 different scenarios in this regard. Most have to do with trying to fake out a base runner. It is called quite rarely, and is always controversial. Osuna's balk was obvious. He made motions to pitch, then seemed to change his mind.

Steve Carlton hold the record for the most balks in a career-90. While pitching for Oakland in 1988, Dave Stewart had 16 balks, the most in a regular season. Bob Shaw had five in one game, at a time when umpires were trying to decide on the definition of a balk. The most famous balk took place in an All Star Game in 1961.

The winds were swirling in Candlestick Park. They were so strong that they caused pitcher Stu Miller to sway erratically, resulting in the balk call.

By the time you read this, the Jays' fate for 2016 will be sealed. Hopefully, not by a silly balk.

James Hurst October 3, 2916 

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