Sunday, August 20, 2006

As Good as a Hit, Just Not Quite As Interesting

Twenty eight walks in 27 innings. That's how many Annie Oakleys the Red Sox pitching staff has allowed in its last three games with the Yankees. That's a stat of stupendous ghastliness, a cosmic blot on the 2006 season. Not incidentally, those walks have created three of the most tedious, soul-deadening ballgames it could be anyone's displeasure to watch.

One guy can be wild. It happens. When six or seven guys all can't find the strike zone in three successive games, Something's Wrong. Very wrong. One stops wondering why those pitchers can't throw strikes and starts wondering if they really want to.

Great stuff and the promise of youth are all very well. The habit of challenging major league hitters, however, is also learned early in a pitcher's career. If the under-30 twirlers the Sox cherish are en route to becoming nibblers during big games, then Boston is well and truly screwed for the remainder of this decade.

A walk an inning means you lose disgracefully. That formula is as ironclad as the law of gravity, which it currently resembles as far as Boston's place in the AL East is concerned. To put the number into further perspective, 28 walks is the total Curt Schilling and David Wells, two Sox pitchers to have yet to appear in the series, have allowed ALL SEASON.

Luckily for Terry Francona's internal organs, Schilling and Wells will start the next two games against New York. That's no guarantee of victory, but it is a guarantee fans might get home before dawn. Schilling and Wells might get killed, but it won't be a murder-suicide pact.

Pitchers of Schilling's ilk are rare. Wells' stuff is hardly exceptional. He rarely throws pitches batters can't touch, so he'll get toasted every so often. Pitches hitters can reach, however, are also known as strikes, and "reach" is not a synonym for "hit really hard." The preceding sentence is why Wells is still earning millions at his trade past age 40.

Young pitchers who want to be old pitchers had better throw strikes. Gopher balls are correctable mistakes. Walks with the bases loaded are character flaws.


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