On the heels of a five-game winning streak, the Nationals were three outs away from reaching the .500 mark for the first time since July 19 when Rafael Soriano took the hill with a 3-1 lead in the ninth inning this afternoon against the Giants. After allowing a lead-off single to Buster Posey, Soriano got two quick outs, striking out Hunter Pence and getting Pablo Sandoval to fly out. Soriano prolonged the inning by walking Roger Kieschnick, bringing up Hector Sanchez with the tying run on first base.
Sanchez entered the pinch-hit at-bat with no home runs and a .501 OPS in 51 plate appearances so far this year. Soriano threw him nothing but fastballs. After falling behind 0-2, Sanchez admirably took a couple close pitches and worked the count back up to 3-2. On the sixth pitch of the at-bat, Sanchez took Soriano’s offering deep down the right field line for the go-ahead three-run home run. Prior to the at-bat, the Nationals were 93 percent favorites. After the at-bat, they were 18 percent underdogs, something best illustrated, as FanGraphs as has done.
The Nationals fall back to 59-61, 14.5 games behind the Braves in first place in the NL East. The Giants improve to 53-67, but they are 17 games behind the Dodgers in last place in the NL West.
You hear a lot about pitchers tipping pitches. It’s often offered up post-facto as an excuse for poor performance by the pitcher himself or his own team. It’s sort of like the “best shape of my life” thing being offered in the offseason to talk about why the player got injured or played badly the previous year. “Smitty’s stuff is still great, he was just tipping his pitches,” said a source close to the player whose stuff is not really great anymore.
Which isn’t to say that pitchers don’t tip pitches. Of course they do. Opposing teams look for it, pick up on it and take advantage of it whenever they can. It’s just that (a) the opposing team has an interest in not talking about it, lest the pitcher STOP tipping its pitches; and (b) the guy actually tipping his pitches doesn’t want to talk specifically about it lest he starts doing it again.
Which is what makes this article at Sports Illustrated so interesting. In it Tom Verducci talks to an anonymous Houston Astros player who explains how Dodgers starter Yu Darvish was tipping his pitches during the World Series, leading to him getting absolutely shellacked in Games 3 and 7. The upshot: the Astros knew when a slider or a cutter was coming, they waited for it and they teed off.
Darvish is a free agent now. I’m guessing, whoever signs him, knows exactly what they’ll gave him work on the first day of spring training.