With Super Slugging and Pitching, Atlanta Takes Control
NEW YORK — Corporations make plans. Couples getting married make plans. And, as it turns out, baseball teams try to plan as well.
The pitchers, hurling fastballs and curveballs, plan how they are going to pitch each hitter. The batters, in meetings with their coaches, have a general idea where those fastballs are going to show up.
But, sometimes, those plans go awry.
At least that's what has happened to the New York Yankees, who saw the Atlanta Braves' hitters anticipate Yankee pitching well enough to take a 2-games-to-0 lead in the best of seven World Series.
The series resumed yesterday, after press time, in Atlanta. "We just have to go down there and score some runs," says Paul O'Neill, the Yankees' right fielder.
The first two games were dominated by the Atlanta hitting machine, which scored 16 runs on 23 hits. The Atlanta pitching was superb as well, holding the Yankees to one run in two games.
That's not the way the Yankee skipper Joe Torre planned it. "We had scouting reports and we go over everyone whether they are going to play or not and we just didn't follow our reports," said Torre after the first game. After the second game, he admitted "You don't see pitching like this everyday."
One of the reasons for the extraordinary pitching is Atlanta's advance scouting. The Braves have been watching the Yankees since mid-September, says Ed Randall, host of the cable television show Talking Baseball.
Atlanta skipper Bobby Cox says the scouting and analysis of game footage is very important. For example, in deciding how to pitch to Yankees Bernie Williams and Tino Martinez, he says the club tries to compare them with hitters in the National League. This gives his pitchers the opportunity to "visualize" how to approach each batter. "Without the scouts you just wouldn't know anything," says Cox.
The advance work may help the pitchers more than the batters. Williams, the Yankee centerfielder, says, "It doesn't matter what they say in the scouting reports until you see for yourself how they are going to pitch you and how things are going in the game."
How the Atlanta scouting succeeded can be seen in the way their pitchers approached Yankee slugger Cecil Fielder. In the Yankee victories against both Texas and Baltimore, Fielder whacked the ball hard. In the first game of the fall classic, Atlanta's winning pitcher John Smoltz threw almost all his pitches on the outside part of home plate.
"They are going to keep the ball away from you and try to get you to keep the ball in the big part of the field," says Fielder, who failed to get on base in the first game.
In the second game, right-hander Greg Maddux jammed Fielder for one out and stayed outside the rest of the game. Maddux noted that Fielder "got himself out" except on a fastball that he termed a "mistake." Fielder lined that pitch into right field for a single and later collected another hit against reliever Mark Wohlers.
Maddux's pitching was pretty much what Fielder expected. "He kept it down, which made it difficult to get the ball in the air. You have to take what they give you," says Fielder. He admits, however, it is very difficult to hit against Maddux. "The ball's moving, either in or away, so nothing's straight and he's just moving the ball around."
For much of the first two games, the Atlanta pitchers were trying to keep the ball on the outside of home plate, which is 17 inches across. Yankee pitcher Andy Pettitte estimates the pitcher is trying to throw the baseball on the outside or inside four to five inches of the plate. "This is the big leagues and you have to be able to do that 6 out of 10 times," says Pettitte.
When a pitcher puts the ball out over the center of the plate, it is usually considered a mistake.
The losing Yankee pitcher in the second game, Jimmy Key, admitted he had made a few mistakes too many. "They got a lot of lead-off guys on base that I wanted to try to keep off base and I just couldn't do it," he said in the clubhouse after the game. "It put me in trouble in every inning."
Some of those mistakes were delivered to Atlanta first baseman Fred McGriff,. who likes balls that are high in the strike zone. McGriff collected two hits and three runs batted in during the second game. However, McGriff says not all the pitches are mistakes. "Hey, I hit some good pitches too," he says.