Fenway Park: Absolute Bedlam

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BOSTON — In between the third and fourth inning of Game 6, the Boston Police Department issued a statement that the Bars around Fenway Park were at full capacity so, please, don’t bother coming down here. Based on what I saw in and around Fenway Park this evening, I am 100% certain that no one heeded that request. There’s no moving on those streets down there as I write this, and most of the fans in attendance tonight haven’t even left the ballpark yet.

I’d never been to Fenway Park before, but I didn’t need anyone to tell me that, in terms of electricity and excitement, what was going on here was something different, something new. But they told me anyway. A writer I know who gets to Fenway often said he’d never heard it this loud or seen it this crazy. A reader who lives in the Kenmore Square area tweeted to tell me that he’s been out in the neighborhood this evening and he’d never heard anything like it before. Heck, midway through the game a couple of fans just waltzed into the press box, beers and hand, and decided it’d be a good place to hang out. It was quite the scene.

But that was just the looney stuff. The exuberance that comes after the game is truly decided and everyone starts the long party. It couldn’t compare at all to what was going on in the third and fourth innings.

The auxiliary press box was my home at Fenway tonight. It’s way out in section 3 of the right field grandstand and is surrounded by fans who bought tickets. And, while all of the tickets for tonight’s game were expensive, these are, comparatively speaking, the cheap seats. And as everyone knows, the cheap seats are the loudest seats. I was generally able to hear myself think for the first couple of innings, but then in the third David Ortiz was being intentionally walked and a chorus of boos rained down. Then Mike Napoli struck out. Then Shane Victorino came up:

“Don’t worry … ’bout a thing …

“CAUSE EVERY LITTLE THING, GONNA BE ALRIGHT!!!!!”

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It sounds moderately cheesy on TV. It is absolutely electric in person.  But that didn’t compare a lick to the sound that emanated from the 38,447 in attendance when Victorino smacked the fourth Michael Wacha pitch he saw off the Green Monster. I would say that, an inning later, Stephen Drew’s solo homer jacked them up again but that would be misleading because they hadn’t yet come down. By the time Victorino came to the plate again — following Jacoby Ellsbury’s double and walks to David Ortiz and Jonny Gomes — it was absolute bedlam. When Victorino singled in Ortiz to make it 6-0, the rafters rattled.

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There were still five innings to go, but Boston knew it had its third World Series championship in ten years. And Boston isn’t going to sleep until the sun comes up tomorrow morning.

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.